The tweet-emblazoned mug was supposed to be an inside joke.
When a Baltimore-based engraving shop pasted President Trump’s negative words about the city onto a blue coffee cup — affixing the phrase “I love my disgusting rodent and rat infested mess” above a map of the area — it was purely for the store’s owners and one employee. Just a way to let off steam and laugh.
“It was too good not to do,” said Robbie Marcouillier, the general manager of Chase Street Accessories & Engraving, which sits around the corner from the office of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) in downtown Baltimore. “But then it just blew up.”
The store posted a picture of the mug on Reddit late in the evening on July 27, the day Trump tweeted his remarks. As the president’s assertion that “no human” would want to live in the majority-black city drew national condemnation as racist, the post also gained attention.
It eventually earned over 500 up-votes on the social media site. And sales of the mug, which costs about $25, started trickling in — a dozen the first day, up to about 100 the next and, as of Friday, close to 500.
Long before it went viral, Chase Street had decided: Even if it only sold 10, it would donate 10 percent of the profits from all mug sales to Thread, a nonprofit organization that helps underperforming Baltimore high school students overcome challenging home situations to succeed academically, personally and professionally. The shop gave Thread $200 for July, and expects to donate a larger sum at the end of this month.
“We decided to donate to a nonprofit that worked with the youth because they are our future,” said Marcouillier, 33. “We’re taking Trump’s words and using them to reinvest into our city.”
Public policy experts have long emphasized the importance of graduating from high school as a way to achieve better-paying jobs and have linked educational attainment to better health outcomes.
“The young people in Thread are absolutely the group of people that will transform this city,” said Marie Brown, senior director of communications for the nonprofit group. “They have the talent, the courage and the resilience. . . . We just need to believe in them and take the time to get to know them.”
Chase Street, which opened in April, is run out of the first floor of the home of husband-and-wife duo Chris and Shana Beach, who co-own the shop. Marcouillier said the idea for the store, which offers custom engraving as well as premade items, stemmed from “a retirement joke” between the Beaches, both in their 30s, and Marcouillier and his husband, Shaun, 35.
Over New Year’s Eve dinner, with Marcouillier freshly out of work, the four friends decided to go for it now instead of waiting until after they retired. None of the four are originally from Baltimore. But all wound up in the city for work several years ago — it’s also where they became friends — and loved it so much they decided to stay.
“It’s a happy business, it’s about creating memories, creating a tangible thing,” said Marcouillier, who is the only employee. “And it’s about celebrating the people of Baltimore and their ideas, whether on an object or a T-shirt.”
Chase Street has been sufficiently successful to break even so far, Marcouillier said. But their typical weekly sale numbers have “exploded” since they produced the mug.
The store plans to keep selling the mug as long as there’s a demand. It has also spun out a few related items: a slightly cheaper ceramic version, as well as a new line of products, including mugs, canvas tote bags and T-shirts, that bear an image of a rat next to the words “invested #WeAreBaltimore,” with “infested” crossed out above. Chase Street will donate 10 percent of the profits from all of these items to Thread.
“The mugs are a way for us to show our local pride and support for Baltimore at a time when we’re being called out on a national stage,” said Chris Beach, 37. “The response has been great from our city — the people that live here know its charm.”
Marcouillier has pulled several late nights to meet the high demand for mugs. Although the shop is supposed to close at 8 p.m., he has stayed at Chase Street well after midnight at least four times in the past week.
Each mug takes about two-and-a-half minutes to manufacture. Keeping an ear out for the telltale chiming noise that signals a new emailed order, Marcouillier gets to work laser-engraving, cleaning and packaging, often with music videos or “Bob’s Burgers” playing in the background.
“You just kind of zone out, and all of sudden you blink and it’s 4 a.m.,” Marcouillier said. “But it’s been great because I know that, at the end of the day, we’re helping people by donating to a nonprofit in our city. So I don’t mind staying up.”
Chris Beach said Marcouillier has “been burning the candle at both ends to keep up with orders.” So far, he’s been able to ensure every single customer gets their mug in the requested turnaround time -- usually by the next business day.
One of those customers is Parker Steven, 28, a graphic designer who lives in Baltimore County and works in the city. She spotted a Chase Street coffee cup in the window of a sister shop a week ago and was immediately enchanted.
Ever since purchasing her mug last week, Steven has disdained all other receptacles. She uses the mug for “pretty much anything,” she said — coffee, tea or soda water — and hand-washes it in between beverages.
Steven has also posted about the mug on Instagram and is encouraging friends and co-workers to buy one, too.
“It just puts a smile on my face any time I go to pick it up,” she said. “I feel like I’ve done something good in buying that and representing something for the city — and it makes me feel I can help others, even if it’s in a small way.”