This post, surprisingly, is not as much about cowboy boots as it is about chasing your dreams and doing the things you are really passionate about. I have known Mark Candela, founder of The Candela Boot Company, since 1982 when the two of us met at The University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Mark grew up right in the middle of the big city and at that time I could not imagine him doing the things he is doing today which is living on a 100 acre ranch in a “Barndominium” and hand producing cowboys boots one stitch at a time. His story epitomizes the great American dream of entrepreneurship and chasing your dreams.
But, before I get into Mark’s journey let’s discuss Weimar, Texas, where the boot company is located, for just a bit.
Weimar is located pretty much in the middle of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio and is a beautiful place full of live oaks and thickets of Yaupon Holly. While much of this area is home to cattle ranches and agriculture, it took a tremendous amount of work and land clearing to cut through the thick maze of vegetation that was here before. This area tends to get much more rain than you we get just a couple hours west in San Antonio and looks more like the piney woods of East Texas than the Hill Country found in San Antonio and Austin. Left to its own, it is a dense forest that is nearly impossible to navigate through without a chain saw or machete.
Most people don’t know that the Germans and Czechs had a lot to do with the settlement of Texas. Weimar is named after Weimar, Germany and still today is inhabited by many of these descendants. As well they settled in North Texas in places like Muenster which I will do a story on some day. These are hard working people who take a lot of pride in this area and it is still on display today with beautiful working farms and ranches throughout the area.
Mark (with the mustache) is a part of the third generation of an Italian family that came through New York in the 1920’s before migrating to Houston. He excelled at accounting, passed the CPA exam, and saved money towards one day getting out of “Corporate America” and moving to the country. But why Cowboy boots? And how do you get started designing and crafting these?
Even though Mark grew up near downtown Houston he always had a love for the country and back in the ’70’s was a part of the “Future Farmers of America” which allowed him to raise show cattle for an annual competition. I’ve teased him over the years that his love of Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots came from the movie “Urban Cowboy” which was shot at Gilley’s just outside Houston but he claims that was never the case and that he already enjoyed the style. Regardless, he always loved the look and felt comfortable wearing a pair of boots. These roots led him to where he is today.
About ten years ago he starting researching “how to make cowboy boots” and he ended up finding an old time boot maker in Austin by the name of Lee Miller who he developed a relationship with. He worked as an apprentice for Lee and later worked for another custom boot maker by the name of Dave Wheeler. He looked over their shoulder, cleaned their shop and tools, and did whatever they would allow him or ask him to do. This was a unusual path for an accountant from “the big city” but he kept at it and two years later he started making his own boots and the Candela Boot Company was started.
I’m sure I make this sound a lot easier and simpler than it really was because I don’t know all of the sacrifice and seeds of doubt that likely went through his mind. Plus, this level of craftsmanship doesn’t come easy. There were other sacrifices as Mark and his wife sold their Houston home and threw all their energies into this new business and simplified lifestyle. I’m sure those first few years were tough and there had to be some “Why did we do this?” moments. But for some reason, perhaps the amazing mornings sitting out on the big lake in front of their place, that they stayed the course.
The boots produced by this tiny company are true one-of-a-kind works of art and I’ve heard they are some of the finest that can be purchased. I love these stories and think they only come together when a person lays all their chips on the table and chases their dreams.