Shining On: Our Take on the Noble Art of the Shoe Shine

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on January 7, 2019 in Uncategorized
At Ironclad Café, Friday through Sunday mornings from 8 to noon, we offer $8 shoe shines – and a cup of coffee while you wait!

Shoe shining, which the Collins dictionary defines as “the act or instance of polishing a pair of shoes,” is a storied and noble profession, dating back to the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. In fact, one of the earliest known photographs on record, dating to 1838, features a shoe shiner and customer in the lower left corner.

The earliest reliably dated photograph of a person, taken in spring 1838 by Daguerre. Though the image shows Paris’ busy Boulevard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the two men at lower left (one apparently having his boots polished by the other) remained still long enough to be distinctly visible. (Source: Wikipedia)

Today, shoe shines are performed all over the world, from East Asia to Africa to South America. Yet here in the western world, whatever the reason, it has become less and less commonplace a sight. Gone are the days when, upon entering any hotel, transit station or office building, one would see someone leisurely seated in a shoe shine booth, contentedly reading a newspaper while the shiner diligently applied a fine, uniform sheen to his or her shoes.

We at Ironclad have decided to do our part to breathe life anew into this tradition. In September, we hired David Adams, a former sculptor, schoolteacher and farmhand, to perform shines in the original shoe shine bench that once occupied Richmond’s historic Jefferson Hotel – where the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and multiple commanders-in-chief are known to have stayed at various points during the shoe shine stand’s tenure there.

The son of an armed serviceman, David says his father taught him how to shine shoes when he was a boy. A genuine “Renaissance man,” as a recent CBS 6 news special describes him, David elevates the craft to a true art form by dint of the nuance, care and attention with which he approaches his trade. “If I practice it properly, each shoe is a piece of artistry for me,” David says. “So I take it deadly seriously.”

As soon as we met David, we knew we’d found in him a kindred spirit, someone destined to become part of the Ironclad story. When it comes to coffee, we at Ironclad, too, approach coffee as artistry. We take pride in providing our patrons with the freshest, most up-to-the-minute offerings and preparations available: stunning single-origins from burgeoning growing regions, brewed with winning recipes by the foremost innovators in our industry, using state-of-the-art batch brewing, pour-over and espresso equipment and procedures. Our leadership and team are united in having an eye to the future of the specialty coffee industry, and we hope to provide you, the customer, with a glimpse of that when you visit our café, speak with one of our baristas, or access our catalogue online.

That being said, we think it important to note that, as keenly interested as we are in what the future may bring, we hold reverence, too, for that which has come before. Key to our company ethos is a wish to preserve elements of our cultural heritage that we hold to be vital, instructive, and worth passing on. To us, shoe shining is a valuable part of that heritage. We are happy to have an expert in the profession among our ranks, keeping this noble art alive!

Some of David’s handiwork on a customer’s Allen Edmonds wingtips.

If you’re interested in coming to us for a shoe shine, you can stop by the Ironclad café between 8 and noon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings – David will be there, dressed to the nines, taking customers in his booth. Otherwise, please feel welcome to drop your shoes off anytime during the week, and we’ll have them ready for you within a day or two. The cost of a shoe shine is $8, and includes a fresh cup of our Ground Control batch brew. What’s more, David can shine nearly any type of shoe: dress, boots, heels – even sneakers! – in addition to leather accessories such as backpacks, purses, briefcases and belts.

“I try to deliver a shine that’s worthy of the rig I got,” David says. As a company, in turn, we seek to create an experience that is worthy of our customers. Shoe shining is part of our vision of service; we hope you will bring us a pair of yours!

For the Ironclad crew,
Ryan

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