Images and words: Chhun Tang/Alex Maldonado
Alex and I sat down and talked over a cold beer. Seems that was just one thing we have in common. Through the conversation I found that we both have an interest in motorcycles, art, design, photography and of course beer.
Alex has been in the Southern California custom hot rod and motorcycle scene for much of his life so working with them in some way seemed fitting. He’s been lucky enough to have put his interests together and make a living from them. Illustration and design were his things early on, with photography being something he honed as time went along. And now his latest interest? Coffee. Café de la olla to be specific and it’s damn good.
EF: Where were you raised?
AM: Born in LA and I was pretty much raised in different parts of LA. We moved around a lot. Most of my time was spent in Hunting Park, my early childhood and then later on, Long beach.
EF: What are some of the things that happened early on in your life that influenced you to start doing what you’re doing.
AM: The art thing was something I did when I was kid. My mom was a single mom so I had to entertain myself a lot when she was working. That’s how I got my escape, I drew a lot. Whatever I was feeling at the time, that’s how I expressed it.
It was the way I was raised and wasn’t something my mom ever said to me, maybe it’s cultural or something but I always assumed I would be some kind of blue collar worker of some sort. I never thought I could take my art anywhere as far as making money. I didn’t start doing design until my early 20’s. I had been drawing up until then but I didn’t get paid until SoCal Speedshop.
EF: Did you have any formal training in art?
AM: No, not for the most part. I had a couple of classes, one in junior high and one at a junior college. Everything else was pretty much self taught.
EF: You’re one of those old school guys who’s been around the hot rod, motorcycle, custom scene for a while. How did you get into that?
AM: Motorcycles really came later. For the most part, I had always been into cars, probably since elementary school and junior high.
I was first into Volkswagons because my sister’s long term boyfriend was a big Volkswagon guy. I had friends who had low riders so from there I just started looking into other cars, magazines and stuff like Lowrider. My first car was a ’69 Impala, it wasn’t super cool or anything but I was in high school. It had a cool motor but it was a beater. Totally looked like ademolition car, it was gray and I painted 69 on the back.
The motorcycle thing for me, truth be told, was because I couldn’t afford to build a hot rod. I also started seeing guys build old Hondas and thought those were cool. And I knew they were cheap.
EF: What was your first bike?
AM: ’76 CB 550. It wasn’t running and pretty bone stock. It was hideous when I got it. The guy who had had it was from Tennessee and had one of those super ugly huge king and queen seat on it. Me and my friend learned to ride on it and started to work on it. I still have the 76 550 and now I have a 750 too.
EF: You’ve been doing illustration and design for a while now. Tell us a little bit about your background, what you’ve done and where you’ve worked.
AM: 10 years ago, I started out at SoCal Speedshop as a sweeper. At the time, I was looking into another warehouse job that paid more, but my friend that told me about the job said it would be a better opportunity so took the SoCal job. I worked there for about 6-8 months before they moved me over to nitrous oxide plumbing. One of the guys thought I had a creative eye so he showed me how to do the machining and plumb the lines for another 6 months. Then I met some of the other guys and they gave me a shot at doing some illustration. At first they told me my drawings were shit and to work on them more. Seven months later they came back to me and wanted to give me another try. At that point, I had never even used a computer for that kind of stuff so for two weeks I just played around on the computer and the programs. I ended up being at SoCal for 10 years and did the design for about 8 of those years.
After that I freelanced and I’ve been doing that for a few years now. It’s been great so far being able to work on different projects for different people. I met some Spanish guys with a small publication in Spain and got the chance to shoot some stuff and do some writing for a story about Bonneville. It’s an experience that’s as bare bones as it gets. It’s not like NHRA or Formula 1, those are so top dollar where at Bonneville if something breaks you fix it yourself under your tent. You’re right there as they’re launching off, there’s no safety net or barriers, you feel the rumble of the motor.
EF: You’re also really into photography. What did that stem from? Where did that come about?
AM: It came from the hot rod industry as more of a necessity because we needed photo reference of what we were building. Then I wanted to take photos of other things. I had to find out what tools I needed and got into it to finding ways to take a better photo. Also partially influenced by my wife, because she’s a hair stylist, I loved fashion photography. I loved what they would do, the process and capturing all of that. My philosophy behind my photos is that you’re going to capture something that will never happen again. For example when I would do an event, I look to capture the details that aren’t necessarily the focal point of the event. I wouldn’t shoot a million shots of all the cars that were there, I’d look to get shots of people in the crowd or a situation that may have come up. For me, those are all the little bits that make up the event. Without riders, drivers and builders, the cars and bikes are all just objects without a story of who rides it.
EF: So where did the idea for the coffee come from?
AM: Well when I was really really young, like being babysat young, my aunt would always treat me with a tiny cup of milk and a splash of her cinnamon coffee (cafe de la olla). That memory and aroma has been engraved into my taste buds until now. In recent years I've come to really enjoy specialty coffee's from various roasters. At some point the past and the present crossed paths and a tiny light bulb in my head started flickering.
EF: Was it a passion you’ve always had and what made you want to create the line of cold brews?
AM: I can't say it was a passion at first, coffee in general was just part of my routine. Now however, I'm definitely passionate about it, I'm eager to learn everything about it, from origins to roasting process. The idea for the cold brew came from the love of my aunts coffee. I wanted to create a refined version of Cafe De La Olla in Cold Brew form. Batch after batch the coffee improved and so I decided to try my hand in the cold brew business. Some might say it wont work, but the cold brew is really just the stepping stone. Eventually I want to roast my own beans and hopefully someday have my own coffee shop of sorts.
EF: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far with BTS?
AM: Time and money. I would say more time before the money though. This project really is being built one batch at a time, one show at a time and one dollar at a time. In some ways though I've always been about the guerilla approach. Yes a bigger budget would be awesome but seems like it would be easier to make poor investments. With next to no budget, you think long and hard about each investment.
EF: What’s the most enjoyable part about it?
AM: There's a few things I really enjoy about the project. The first thing I really enjoy is seeing peoples expression the first time they try our coffee. Usually if a customer digs it they get a surprised expression on their face followed by a nod of approval, almost like they're saying, "whatta ya know, this is actually good". Recently I had a customer from Inspiration LA tell me this and I quote, "Hey WTF was in that coffee? I was so wired, I felt like I did a line". Hilarious. The second thing I really enjoy is meeting people at events. I love meeting like minded creative people who share the same interest, or at least similar interest. Even when you meet negative people it usually makes for great stories later.
EF: What do you hope to accomplish with it?
AM: I want to bring a different perspective to the table, wether it be coffee, art or motos. There's nothing more disappointing than someone who's scared of liking something because it isn't excepted in their "social circle".
EF: Where do you see it going in a few years?
AM: Thats a damn good question, for sure I want to be roasting my own beans, at the minimum. I'm curious to see where it goes, its already evolved so much from what I originally intended so I guess we'll just have to see what pans out.
EF: What else do you when you’re not working on all your creative projects?
AM: I wish I could say I'm out there riding the shit out of my bike but when I'm not hustling on a project (or trying to get the next project) it's all about my family and friends. My three girls (wife, daughter and doggy) keep me real busy. Usually we're out and about trying to enjoy the little free time we have. To be more specific though, we're either sitting at coffee shop, taking a walk/hike or enjoying time with friends. Hopefully when BTS starts blowing up I can focus on the former.
Thanks to Alex for spending time with us. And thank you for checking out the interview! Go visit his blog to check out more of his work and to keep up with his latest and greatest. You can find him slanging his BTS brew at the monthly East Fork Supply Co. Coffee + Donuts event they host, other events in the area, taking photos at local events and you can also find him online: