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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

The Beauty of Concrete with Alvarez Custom Concrete

Aug 27, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Rock Solid

September 2019
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos courtesy of Alvarez Custom Concrete 

ACCOMPANIED BY HIS vivid imagination, Frank Alvarez spent his childhood afternoons exploring the outdoors, creating forts and climbing walnut trees with his best friend, Cameron Chojnacki. Alvarez was born with a creative spirit; while other kids were stealing bases and shooting hoops, Alvarez and Chojnacki were creating airplanes out of old logs and perfecting the ultimate skate ramp. 

After graduating from Mt. Whitney High School in 1998, Alvarez enrolled in the emergency medical technician program at College of the Sequoias. He soared
through the course, achieving high marks on book work and lab exams. Nearing graduation, Alvarez joined paramedics in ride-alongs in an effort to gain true-life experiences. But after assisting in a heartbreaking scenario, Alvarez knew that the world of medical emergencies was not for him. Despite the pleading of his professor, Alvarez withdrew from the program just weeks before graduation with a peaceful heart, but lacking a future career plan.

Knowing Alvarez was in need of a job, childhood friend Chojnacki linked Alvarez to Carlton Concrete in 1999. Owner Doug Carlton took Alvarez under his wing, teaching him the techniques required for both indoor and outdoor concrete needs. A passion began to grow in Alvarez as he worked his way up in the company and learned a new art form. In high school, Alvarez had enjoyed 3D Art taught by Ron Loyd, finding satisfaction in working with his hands and creating unique items. Looking back, Alvarez saw that the instruction and encouragement from Loyd had an impact on his future and how he approached art. Alvarez’s parents continued to encourage him in this new field, seeing that he had found his niche. 

In 2013, Carlton closed up shop when moving to Wyoming, and Alvarez was left with a family to care for and without an employer. Having found a passion in concrete, Alvarez decided to venture out and create his own company, opening the doors to Alvarez Custom Concrete in 2013 with the support of his wife, Mary. Word of mouth began to spread and Alvarez’s art quickly came into demand. With each new client, Alvarez learned to expand and perfect his technique as he built outdoor barbecues and indoor farmhouse sinks. Soon Alvarez was pushing the envelope, mimicking styles of architects in the Bay Area, bringing a new flair to valley decor. 

As Alvarez began to think outside of the box, he faced trial and error. After days of creating a specific mold or attempting a new piece, he would be disappointed to find a crack or error. He persisted, knowing shortcuts wouldn’t be of any help. “Mistakes help me learn,” he says. “Never look at it as a mistake, but something you can learn and build from. Imperfections make it what it’s supposed to be.” As Alvarez became more familiar with the mixtures and thicknesses needed, he was reminded of his mother cooking in his childhood family kitchen, making flour tortillas. As a child, he would sit and watch her mix a little of this and a pinch of that, somehow knowing what the mixture should feel like. The process was part of her nature, a secret she had learned from years of experience. With each new piece, each trial, each mistake, Alvarez was gaining that knowledge, learning the craft of concrete.

Alvarez gleaned from experts in the industry, attending seminars and devouring books from industry greats like Fu-Tung Cheng in Berkeley. Alvarez grew in skill and began creating unique pieces with the inclusion of new elements such as copper and seashells. Alvarez had always had the talent, but his practice and dedication to honing his craft was paying off.

In 2014, Alvarez and Chojnacki joined forces on a creative project. The partnership was a natural fit and a throwback to their childhood days of creative afternoons. The duo worked together on the remodel of Merryman Station in Exeter using reclaimed materials, each bringing his own element, business and expertise to the rustic gathering place. The project was a beautiful success, but their true piece of pride is a table made from old wood found at Chojnacki’s family ranch where they played as children. Chojnacki’s Grandpa Leo had spurred them on to try great and daring things in childhood and it only seemed fitting to create a piece in his honor, a combination of their talents – making a wooden table with a concrete inset. The piece is one that will never be sold, as the sentimentality is invaluable. 

Each design and piece Alvarez creates is unique and mirrors the style and desires of the clients. Alvarez’s warm personality creates a quick bond with each client, a talent that helps him understand the vision desired for each piece. 

Adrian Herrera has hired Alvarez for multiple projects. “My wife, Korrie, always has these out-of-the-box ideas. Frank makes them happen. He’s always up to the challenge and he’s simply an artist. When it comes to concrete countertops, sinks and anything decorative concrete, Frank has the skill to get it done.”    

Creating concrete wall panels and custom countertops wasn’t what Alvarez dreamed about back in his 3D Art class in high school, but, something clicked and a passion ignited, and it continues to burn brightly. •

Alvarez Custom Concrete • (559) 805-6315
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