When I pulled up to Olive Street Specials with dusk setting in, I wasn’t sure what I was walking into. A quonset hut with a palmetto olive sign in a residential area made me think that maybe this was some “hip” bar gentrifying the neighborhood. After a warm greeting from Mike Muller and some friends, I was welcomed into the shop. Olive Street Specials looks like something straight out of an Anthony Hicks painting - a PG one, though. Killer chops lined up and projects in various states of build, old manual machining equipment, and a few guys and dogs standing around drinking yellow bellies (that’s Coors Banquet Beer). I was there to see my buddy Zach Gostelli and his 2021 Biltwell’s People’s Champ build. That was a while back, but I’ve kept in touch with Mike since then, and when ChopCult asked us to put together a Shop Q&A we were stoked to work together on it.
How long have you lived in Ventura?
Mike: We’ve been living out here for about 5 years now.
What got you into riding motorcycles?
Mike: I’m not exactly sure what started the obsession, but it happened pretty early on. I was big into riding bicycles when I was young and then I found out that they made dirt bikes for little groms. That began my 10-year career of begging my parents for a bike. Finally, they bought me a little ‘86 RM125 off their friend when I was 16. That was a cool bike. It ended up burning down in our tool shed when a fire swept through our neighborhood. My first road bike was a ‘59 preunit triumph in an old factory rigid frame I bought when I was living in Brooklyn. That bike kind of intro’d me to the vintage/custom chopper culture.
What made you decide to open your own shop?
Mike: I got hit on my chopper pretty bad commuting from the hotrod shop I was working at a couple years ago. I was pretty banged up - broken femur/tibula/fibula/clavicle, etc. As much as he tried, my boss couldn’t afford to have me limping around the shop at half speed, so he cut me loose. I used that as an opportunity to start my own shop, where I could work at my own speed on stuff I’m into and not have to climb in and out of cars all day.
When did you open up shop?
Mike: I started working out of my shop full time about a year and a half ago. It has been interesting to say the least. I’m just now feeling like I’m gaining some solid traction.
Who works in your shop with you?
Mike: Aside from the occasional buddy working on his stuff here, it’s just me. I may be bringing on some help in the near future.
How does your wife/girlfriend/significant other contribute to your shop (or support your shop)?
Mike: My fiancé Samantha isn't contributing much other than tolerating the daily antics in here. Which in itself is a lot to ask because we also live here! Thanks Sam!
What is your background in machining and fabrication?
Mike: I started doing metalwork on request from my boss back when I was doing general construction. He needed an onsite welder, and I used that as an opportunity to learn as much as I could while still getting paid. I bought a little TIG welder so I could learn and practice on the job site. As far as machining goes, it was really a matter of necessity even early on. I think every garage should have some kind of mill and lathe. I’m not sure how people survive without them!
How does your machining capabilities influence your designs?
Mike: My machines are all at least 50 years old so I am forced to keep things simple, which I think in the end is probably a good thing.
What is your shop’s capabilities?
Mike: I’m able to do most any small scale fabrication job that involves welding and machining. On a daily basis I’ve done everything from custom furniture to skateboard rails. I dig working on motorcycles because they introduce all types of different challenges in one small package.
Do you collaborate with other shops or do any specialized work for them?
Mike: There are a few shops that I will hit up if the customer’s needs are outside of my capacity. It’s pretty cool living in a smaller community where all the shop/business owners help each other out.
Has SoCal motorcycle history influenced your taste in motorcycles?
Mike: For me, it may not be motorcycle history in SoCal, but hotrod culture in general. I dig the concept of taking old, antiquated technology and turning it into something that performs well. The cool look of the end product is just an added benefit. Choppers and hotrods are the same thing, just stripped down and hopped up to go as fast as possible!
What inspired your most recent customer build?
Mike: I recently built a ‘66 shovelhead that I wanted to be a super traditional and clean 60’s style chopper. I’ve never been a huge fan of decorative or flashy details, so I kept everything as simple as possible using mostly polished stainless and chrome for anything that wasn’t painted. It’s the client’s first vintage Harley so I wanted to keep it pretty basic for him as far as dimensions go. Since the engine had to be rebuilt anyway, we decided to put some cool hotrod parts in there too.
You entered the 2022 Biltwell’s People Champ contest. What’s the story with your build? Any lessons learned from watching Zach go through the process for the last People’s Champ?
Mike: Yes, the Peoples Champ thing! I’m shocked and stoked they chose me to compete this year. The competition is fierce, there’s a lotta cool bikes with some nice parts going into them! So I have a couple builds going on right now that are all about the same level of completion so it was tough to decide which bike would be the one to enter. I decided to go with my personal ‘64 pan project, hoping that maybe it will be more of a head turner when it’s finished. From watching Zach go through the process last year with his build I know, it’s got a lot to do with how frequently you update your build feed and how much hype you put into it. Honestly, I’m just happy they chose me so I’m going to try to act natural and hopefully build something cool!
Photos by Nico Voit
Your shop seems like a social hub for your friends, how does that affect your business?
Mike: We all live right around the corner from each other so there’s people constantly stopping in to see what’s going on. We have fun turning wrenches and giving each other shit. During the week, everyone’s doing their own thing mostly so I don’t get too distracted.
Do people confuse your shop with an upscale bar with mixologists?
Mike: That would be funny! No, I don’t think anyone around here is interested in mixology. Malt liquor maybe.
You recently started doing bike nights, when is that and what normally goes on?
Mike: We’ve been doing bike nights every Tuesday from 5-8pm. We figured it would be a cool way to meet people and maybe bring in more chopper-related business. It’s pretty cool some folks ride out from pretty far to get in on it. We just have a few beers, fire up the BBQ, and hang.
Which bike builders inspire you?
Mike: I apprenticed with Caleb at Cro Customs for about a year back in the day. He has always inspired me because of his ability to mix traditional elements with new and different ideas. Every bike he builds seems to be completely different but share the same level of simplicity and elegance. I also had the pleasure of working alongside Jake Wreesman, who’s shop is up the road from mine. He recently did a panhead for BornFree that came out incredible.
What is your dream bike?
Mike: Lately I’ve been dreaming about flathead big twins. I love the way those engines look and sound!
What's the craziest thing (that you can tell us about) that has happened as a result of being part of the chopper community?
Mike: Honestly becoming part of the community itself has been pretty exciting. I’m still pretty new to the group. I wish I’d have gotten involved way sooner!
Where do you guys like to ride to, locally, to get out and blow off steam or just burn up some road?
Mike: We hit PCH pretty often which is always fun. Otherwise taking the 33 up through Ojai to Reyes Creek is a great ride!
Where would be your dream road trip on a bike?
Mike: My dream road trip would be to ride through the south to Key West and probably never return.
With the upsurge in popularity of Performance Baggers and the long-established popularity of Dynas and FXRs in your area, why stick with choppers?
Mike: I’ve never been a fan of going super-fast especially since I got hit, so working on and riding old slow bikes is more my vein. I get a lot of satisfaction out of revitalizing old technology. Other than the look of old choppers, the size is a big factor to me. I also like to ride small lightweight bikes so I can really whip them around easily, like you can with a bicycle.
What else are you into?
Mike: Man, it might sound kinda dorky but I’ve been getting into sailing a bunch. It gives me the same feeling as riding a chopper in a way just how old school and simple it is.
Anything else you want to add?
Mike: Big thanks to Chop Cult! You guys are the shit! Bringing the community together, supporting, representing and featuring small shops like mine, it's seriously cool what you guys do! Thank you Derek, Nico, & Lisa!
I want to thank Mike for his time. Be sure to check out Olive Street Specials' website and give them a follow on Instagram and Facebook.
Derek / @intheweedphotography
Photos by Peter Kappen - Website / Instagram