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Where Are They Now? Alpena Natives Invent and Manufacture ‘Original Tin Cup’

Posted on February 22nd, 2019
Alpena native brings back the drinkware of the 1800’s with style and a new twist, have you heard of the Original Tin Cup? If not, it’s about time you do!

We caught up with Nate Blury of Grand Rapids (formerly Alpena), who co-founded this company called the Original Tin Cup along with some help along the way from friend and Alpena native, Chad Lewis.

Nate and Chad are both 2004 graduates of Alpena high school. Nate attended Alpena Community College before heading off to Grand Valley State University, where he graduated in 2009 with a degree in business management. Chad also attended ACC before graduating from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, where he started his own manufacturing company (Superior Manufacturing) and helped bring to life, “THE DOM” for the Original Tin Cup. Here is Nate’s story and how the OTC came into fruition:

What inspired you to create this company?

Nate and Chad sailing on Zonker; photo courtesy Nate Blury

“I came across a little piece of history and thought it might be a cool idea for a product. In the 1800’s many railroad workers and coal miners would drink whiskey and the wild west and mines proved to be pretty rough on glassware, so they turned to the materials around them, mainly tin, to make mugs that wouldn’t break.  The thing is the tin actually changed the taste of the whiskey and they actually preferred it!  I had no idea how difficult it would be to make something as simple as a cup.  It turns out that no one really makes anything like that in the states anymore, it all comes from China.  So we just had to do things from scratch.  We launched a KickStarter to help raise funds, and it took off from there!  After we were up and running, Chad Lewis reached out.  We graduated AHS together and had some classes at ACC, but we really hadn’t spoken for some time.  Chad told me that he had created a manufacturing company in Marquette, MI. to help support the work he was doing in his boat shop. It turned out to be the perfect fit to have Chad make one of our cups for us.  We call it “THE DOM” in honor of my friend and co-founder.  Our other production happens just outside of Grand Rapids, MI. with a team of dedicated craftsmen who start with a blank sheet of metal and form it by hand into one of our Original Tin Cups.  Because each cup is built by hand, no two are exactly alike, just like the people who drink from them. We love the character each cup takes on, they are truly built to last a lifetime.”

What experiences did you have growing up in Alpena that influenced your success today?

“My entrepreneurial spirit was fostered while growing up in Alpena. There where several mentors that showed me first-hand what it was like to own a small business.  I also learned a lot during my time at Alpena Community College as well.”

Does food grade stainless steel have the same effect on the flavor profile for people drinking from your “Tin” Cups?

“While our name harkens back to history, we do not use tin in any of our products, due to health concerns associated with heavy metals.  Everyone’s palate is different, but many people who have tried our cups will tell you that it makes their beverage taste “smoother” or “brighter.” I personally like to think that it lengthens the flavor profile allowing people to experience more of whatever it is they are drinking from our cups.”

Tell us about Cocktails & Conversations:

“When I started my small business I realized really quickly how hard it is, and also that I am not alone in it.  I think you have to be a little crazy to run a small business and go against the grain a little.  As such, many small business owners help each other out in some pretty incredible ways.  There are so many stories that come from this, that I felt it was important to showcase them the best way I knew how.  I started making webisodes featuring other people in the beverage industry and it just grew from there.  It has been pretty cool, I met the world bartending champion in Iceland; I drank with a pioneer of Gin in Belgium, the owner of the 7th largest brewery in the US, and even sat down with The Austin Brothers in Alpena!” **Catch all the episodes of Cocktails and Conversations by following the link here –> Cocktails & Conversations

Speaking of cocktails, what’s your favorite drink to have with the OTC?

“It might sound crazy but I really enjoy my coffee every morning from the cup. While the cup will get hot (because it is metal) the handle does not, and it really makes it taste bold and rich.  I also enjoy “Moscow Mules” (a simple cocktail featuring Vodka, Ginger Beer, and Lime Juice) and a good old Rum & Coke.”

Will there ever be an homage specifically to Alpena in any future products?

“We actually make some that have an outline of the mitten with a star over Alpena (they carry them at the Local Basket Case).  However, I also am toying with the idea of the lumberman (and women) that built Alpena.  There is so much inspiration around Northeastern Michigan, from Thunder Bay, Native American Folklore, the shipwreck museum, to the legacy of the Bessers and the Fletchers who helped build industries here… I am sure we will have more products featuring my hometown.”

What advice do you have for young people growing up in Alpena today?

“Enjoy the natural beauty of your hometown. Get outside, learn to fish and to hunt, enjoy biking, boating, hiking, and snowmobiling. You will learn from nature and from observing people.  Ask to be mentored by an adult who works in an area/industry the interests you.  Don’t be afraid to “get dirty” work with your hands, or try something new.  If you have an idea for a product or company, then explore it.  Even if it turns out to be a total failure you can still learn from it, and you will be a better person because you tried.”

What do you miss most about Alpena?

“I miss so much about the town. Mostly I miss the people, but I also miss things like the Brown Trout Festival, The County Fair, and spending time outdoors along Lake Huron.  Alpena is a special place, there really isn’t anything else like it.  You really have to spend time there to understand just how special it is.”

On behalf of the Alpena CVB and Alpena Community, we would like to extend a BIG congratulations to both Nate Blury and Chad Lewis for following their entrepreneurial spirits and for going steadfast into this business adventure so that we may enjoy spirits in new and innovative ways! (And of course, claim bragging rights! #AlpenaNatives)

You can purchase your Original Tin Cup and logowear at originaltincup.com

Follow and ‘Like’ the Original Tin Cup on Facebook at www.facebook.com/originaltincupcompany

Follow their adventures on Instagram at @originaltincup