2010 was a very tough year for Freddy Martinez, a year that saw him get divorced and ended up with him filing for bankruptcy. Growing up in a family of migrant workers, Martinez knew what it was like to live day to day, paycheck to paycheck. But now money was tighter than it has been in a while.
“I have seven kids. So, yes, money became very, very tight that year. Seven kids and single. One income,” Martinez tells Madison365. “My kids and I were all scrunched into this house that I had just bought. With the divorce and the bankruptcy, I was starting fresh.”
His kids wanted beds and other things that other kids had so Martinez started making furniture for them by hand. “I made them bunk beds. I made my own bed. I knew how to do woodworking and it saved me a lot of money building my own furniture,” he remembers.
Martinez started to make some other furniture, too, and began to post some of his creations on Facebook.
“A woman asked me, ‘Could you make a coffee table from a whiskey barrel for me?’ And she showed me a picture. I looked at it and thought it was kind of interesting,” Martinez remembers. “I told her, “I can try!’ It took me a whole year to get to her whiskey barrel coffee table, but when I did, she didn’t want it anymore.”
Undeterred, he posted it for sale on social media and it immediately sold. He used the other half of the barrel to make another table and that sold, too. That’s where a light bulb went off for him. Maybe he could turn his craftiness into a side hustle.
“When you have seven kids. Any extra income is a blessing and it really helps,” Martinez remembers. “So I started doing the whiskey barrel coffee tables and everything I was making was selling.”
The coffee tables were a hit but what has become even more popular and unique were the Freddy’s Whiskey Barrel Bar Carts, which Martinez constructs from start to finish at home with the help of his kids. They are custom-made for people who order them. The whiskey barrels are made from American White Oak and the wood is very strong and hard, while highly rot-resistant.
“I wanted a bar that was unique and I knew other people did, too. I started sketching on paper and came up with a design,” Martinez remembers. “I posted my very first whiskey barrel bar on my Facebook page and people were liking it and sharing it like crazy. I was getting messages from all around the country.
“I thought to myself: This could be a business. Because nobody else is doing these,” he adds. “I looked. I called manufacturers. I checked out so many different websites and nobody makes what I do. This is very original.”
Martinez has been changing them up with different designs as he buys more and more whiskey barrels. “Every one I made just kept getting better and better. People love them and want to buy them. People have asked for personalized ones, and I’ve done that. It’s been a very unique and fulfilling hobby. It’s something I can do with the kids and it makes me a little extra cash.”
He still does the coffee tables and other furniture, too, like antique armoire bars, end tables, living room tables.
“I’ve found a grandfather clock on the street and have remade that into a liquor cabinet. Just about everything I make, I sell. I like to recycle stuff,” he says. “I love to use the urban wood from here in Madison and use recycled whiskey barrels from Kentucky.”
Martinez has always been a handy guy. He had to be coming from a very poor family of migrant workers. Originally, from Laredo, Texas, he came to Wisconsin in 1994 to help his family who was struggling.
“My dad injured both shoulders and wasn’t working. We were really struggling down there. I come from a family of nine kids. Money was tight. At the age of 16, I was working unloading 10,000 cinder blocks by hand for $25 a day,” he remembers. “I knew of Wisconsin because I had a sister and brother that were living in Madison. Everybody knows that up north is where the money is. I felt I could make more money there and I would help my parents by having one less mouth to feed. I made enough money for a one-way ticket to Madison and told my mom that I would be back when summer’s over.
“I came from a house that had an outside bathroom and an outside shower. You had to learn a lot of stuff. My dad taught me a lot. I did construction since I was young,” he adds. “We were migrant workers back in the day. We used to migrate to Wisconsin from Texas every year. My dad was a construction worker in Texas so I knew a lot of construction workers because of that.”
Martinez started working at Sub-Zero Group, Inc., part of the Household Appliance Manufacturing Industry, in 1998, soon after he first came to Madison. He will have worked there for 24 years in January. But it wasn’t until his divorce and filing for bankruptcy that he decided to use his construction skills to make some extra money. With seven kids, he knew he needed a side hustle, too, and that has become his furniture construction — mainly his Whiskey Barrell Bar Carts. Martinez says that quite a few people have mentioned to him that he should get a patent for them.
“I’m not sure if I even know what the appropriate steps on that are. I would like to. At least then it’s your idea and you can claim it. I hope that it is,” he says. “I’ve looked everywhere online to see if there is anything like it. I’ve looked and I’ve looked and I’ve looked. I can’t find anything like what I do. So if I could patent this, I would like to. I would love to get that done.”
The Whiskey Barrell Bar Carts are custom made so they often have multiple shelves, drawers and cabinets. The bar carts can have wood table tops, granite countertops or quartz.
“I have one that I really like that is pine. It’s from a 100-year-old tree that was in a northern Wisconsin barn. I love stuff like that. I love old things,” Martinez says. “I’ve done them in oak and in pine and with concrete tops with fire.”
Martinez has done really cool stuff like the whiskey barrel fire top bar carts (YouTube below) that has a gas tank underneath. He has also created ones that have a slot for an umbrella in the middle for outdoor use on a sunny day. His whiskey barrel bars have wheels on the bottom so you can take it wherever you like.
“They are all truly beautiful for me. I’ve sold tables to people in Oshkosh, Eau Claire, Fennimore, down south, Appleton… a lot of local places around town,” Martinez says. “People come and pick them up. I haven’t had to ship anything yet.
“The one that I sold for $1,800 was that expensive just because the tabletop was made of quartz and I paid $650 for the tabletop,” he adds. “That table went up to Eau Claire.”
The carts generally sell from $1,200-$1,800 pending on how complicated they are and what type of materials are used.
“People get mad at me and tell me that I’m selling them for too cheap,” Martinez says. “But we’re not here on this earth for a very long time. I know that I came from a poor family and there was a time during this past decade that I really, really struggled myself. I had to go to pantries for food. The things that I create I don’t want to make them so only rich people can have them. I want the average person to have what I can make.
“And if you really want my products right now and you can’t afford it and don’t quite have enough money … you can have it for $800. Ultimately for me, it’s not about the money anymore, it’s people enjoying something that I created.
“I really take pride in everything that I create. Someday I won’t be here but I hope that people are still enjoying what I built.”
For more information about Freddy’s Whiskey Barrell Coffee Tables or Whiskey Barrell Bar Carts, check out his Facebook page or give him a call at (608)228-2001.