In the days of bachelor pads, college classes, and the trending cocktail of Moscow mules I ordered a set of copper mugs online. Daily we checked the mailbox of our college house; anxiously anticipating the arrival of our mule mugs. I’ve not forgotten the heavy disappointment that accompanied the opening of that long-awaited package. These were anything but the copper mugs we’d hoped for. We were the proud new owners of a set of highly overrated stainless steel cups, wrapped in a chincy faux-copper coating. I will admit, I praised the company for their free shipping return policy.
A weekend or two later, I found myself “back home” sorting and sifting through hundreds of pounds of scrap-copper in my dad’s commercial refrigeration workshop. Some head scratching, innovation, and a few days later I’d done it; I’d built my own copper mug.
In retrospect, that mug was a far cry from the present-day Handlebend mug we’ve worked so hard to refine…quite simply, it was ugly. I was proud of it, though. I toted it around to gatherings and showed it off to anyone who cared to see it. Nearly instantly, my roommate, best bud, and co-implementor of many projects and parties, Matt wanted a set of mugs. “You can have a set” I told him… “but you’re gonna build them”. Another weekend trip home to the shop found him as the proud new owner of 4 hand-built copper mugs. Needless to say, I was slightly confused as to how he’d ended up with four-to-one copper mugs over me!
The next 5 years found our mugs as the centerpiece of many conversations, and the vessels of many icy beverages; beyond our college years they became the iconic and much-anticipated wedding gift of many of our closest friends. With sets of mugs in many cities around the country, we began getting feedback. “These are such a hit! You need to sell your mugs!”
The discovery we made over time was that our copper mugs impressed people. More importantly than that, our friends were excited to host cocktail parties and barbecues around the mugs we’d built for them. Quite literally: our mugs were bringing people together.
It is this very idea that keeps us moving. A lot has changed in the 15 years since I built that very first mug. My cell phone, in those days was of the flip-variety; it barely had a camera, didn’t know what the internet was, and I didn’t care if I left it lay for hours or days at a time. In our hyper-connected world, we’ve come to realize the importance of unplugging. Disconnecting from the e-world, and connecting with friends, family, and even strangers beneath the guise of “good times” is, perhaps, more important to our well-being now than it has ever been.
Since the birth of Handlebend, the company, we’ve decided to lean into these sentiments. In 6 years of building copper mugs we’ve refined the prototype, streamlined the process, and grown the personnel. We’ve remodeled the historical Shelhamer building that has been a main-street O’Neill, Nebraska staple for over 70 years. It serves not only as our Coppershop, but as a hub for gathering and building community right here, in our hometown.
We have brought together complimenting businesses; businesses that share space and help each other. It is our thought that we, in small-town America need to have each others’ backs, and that collaboration serves everyone better than competition. This big red-brick building serves as our canvas to paint that picture upon.
We hope our hand-built mugs provide a foundation for you to build the same values upon. Whether it’s beneath the roof of the Handlebend Building for a Mule or a cup of coffee, or at your kitchen table or campfire surrounded by the ones you love the most, we hope to help you bring people together. Cheers to old friends, good times, and making neighbors out of perfect strangers.