Texas Boot & Saddlery owner Mark A. Cato says Fort Worth is the perfect place to understand the evolution of cowboy boot fans from ranch hands to rodeo cowboys to fashion plates.
And all of those folks have found his shop’s off-the-beaten-path location in southwest Fort Worth.
The shop’s one-of-a-kind handcrafted products are part of “a dying art,” Cato says.
“A lot of the shops just haven’t been able to hang on,” he said. “The difference with our shop is pretty much if it’s leather, we’ll work on it.”
The team at Texas Boot & Saddlery is made up of five seasoned leather craftsmen: Don Stewart, the cobbler; Karl Mott, the custom leather crafter; Jesus Chavez, the master saddler; Tommy Ruddy, the custom tooling and saddle specialist; and Cato, the cordwainer – a term describing someone who makes new footwear from new leather – who specializes in custom leather boots.
Texas Boot & Saddlery also receives orders for custom belt work, wallets and purses.
“Ironically enough, Karl, the gentleman who is blind, is pretty much the main one if it’s a custom purse. He does the custom purses,” Cato said.
Cato took over the shop from the late Charles Toole, the previous owner, in 2011 after working under him for two years. The shop handles everything from shoes, boots and saddles to belts, purses and wallets.
Fifty-year-old Cato – husband, father and grandfather – has more than 30 years of experience in leather work. He started tooling wallets and other accessories before specializing in making and repairing boots.
“Everyone was telling me, ‘Look, you’re a boot maker. This is Cowtown. You need to start your own company,’ ” Cato said. “Well, it takes a lot of money, a lot of time – one of which I have none, the other of which I have very little.”
At first, Cato used half his garage as a shop. Then one day while searching for boot materials, he found Toole at Texas Boot & Saddlery. Toole had the material and was interested in Cato’s work.
“When I walked out of the shop apparently they [Toole and Mott] turned to each other and said, ‘We need to get him in here,’ ” Cato said.
After an exchange of material and camaraderie, when Toole found himself in need of a boot maker, he knew just who to call. Over the next two years, the pair bonded like father and son.
“I took care of him for the last nine months of his life,” Cato said of Toole. “Before he passed away he passed the business to me, and when he passed it to me he told me he didn’t know if it was a curse or a blessing, but it was mine to do with.”
Cato has been at the helm for seven years, but Toole’s presence in the workshop remains – an urn containing his ashes sits in the back office with Toole’s favorite cowboy hat on top.
Cato was born in Southern California, but his primarily Midwestern family instilled a Southern charm with a country “sunrise-to-sunset” work ethic.
“I would consider myself the glue, kind of holding everything together,” he said with a chuckle. “Obviously I’m the only one in the shop that does the custom boots.”
In addition to his craftsman responsibilities, which include sewing purses, belts and wallets and doing custom airbrush and dye work, Cato oversees the daily administration and helps with other projects where needed.
“I love Fort Worth. It is truly home for me and we’ll remain here the rest of our lives,” Cato said.
He says he has his own ideas of how the shop fits into the Fort Worth culture, “but more of what I have is feedback from the customers. This is Cowtown and we’re kind of off the beaten path.”
Their southwest Fort Worth location serves local customers and others from throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Lots of our customers will say we’re kind of like that little golden nugget that’s hidden in Fort Worth,” Cato said. “They walk in and it’s like you expect to see this when you imagine an old-world repair shop. They walk in and they’re like, ‘This is what I remember when my grandpa used to take me into the repair shop when he got his done.’ ”
The shop originally opened its doors in 1978 at 3508 Williams Road and has since moved next door to a larger space.
Cato says his workshop caters to country folk, ranchers and other boot lovers. With boots becoming more of a widespread fashion item, and thanks to the advent of the internet, Cato says Texas Boot & Saddlery makes and repairs items for customers from across the country and around the globe.
From California to New York, Australia to Paraguay, customers will travel, send their boots with a friend or ship them to the shop.
“The tourist portion of Fort Worth has enabled us to reach out to people outside of just Texas, and outside of the Metroplex, and then also with the internet. And we don’t advertise, we’ve always just gone word of mouth,” Cato said.
“We’ve grown so much just from the word of mouth, truly we’re at a point where, pardon me, if I brought more business in I’d be hard-pressed to be able to get it all done,” he said.
With the shop’s growth has come the addition of boot and saddle consignment, but Cato says the shop is selective about what is on the shelves and he doesn’t expect to expand that aspect of the business any time soon.
“If I were gonna expand anywhere, I’d want to expand more towards just the custom boots because that’s my passion, that’s what I love to do,” Cato said.
“We do probably more boot repair than any other repair shop in the Metroplex. Now there are lots of shops that probably do more ladies’ shoes and men’s shoes, and we do our fair share of that, but we have a phenomenal reputation with our boots,” he said.
At Texas Boot & Saddlery, custom-made boots start at $850 per pair, with decorative show boots and other exotic styles on the higher end.
Boot and shoe repairs, which make up roughly 75 to 80 percent of the work, cost from $9.99 to $15.99 for heel repair (per pair) and $39.99 to $94.99 for sole repair.
Texas Boot & Saddlery
3510 Williams Road