During my summer travels, I missed this excellent AskAndy thread on one member's visit to the AE factory in Wisconsin to see his pair of Mora double monk straps being produced. He also met with AE CEO Paul Grangaard during his visit.
If you are new to the world of quality men's shoes and have been perusing the men's clothing discussion forums, your shoe development arc will probably have taken you from Kenneth Cole to the rarified world of higher end RTW, MTO and perhaps even true bespoke from the UK and the Continent. I wouldn't want to deny you any aspect of that journey. It's hard not to experiment with and appreciate the quality traditional shoemakers that still turn out finely made traditional shoes. The choices are truly bountiful and the photos ever growing (see this monster Styleforum thread on member shoe purchases).
But rarely do you hear shoe aficionados put Allen-Edmonds in the same category as say an Edward Green, John Lobb or Gaziano & Girling. To be sure, there are differences in the shape of the last, the finishing, the choice of leather, etc., which account for that gap in reputation on the internet forums. Naturally, you'll want to make your own determinations on what works best for you but I find I wear my AE shoes as regularly as any of my other high end shoes. In terms of overall wearability and versatility, AE (and Alden, the other traditional American shoemaker) rank very high for me. Unlike the overseas makers, you can readily recraft AEs and Aldens as I describe in an earlier thread. And of course they are much more easily available to try on and purchase in the US.
So if you're looking to "step up" from Kenneth Cole my suggestion is to test drive the American shoemakers as well as the UK and European makers.