Two patents and no hands needed: How a Valley man came up with a hands-free popcorn bucket

It’s a story that starts with cervical cancer but ends on a couple happy notes.

MESA, Ariz. — Chris Randazzo has spent the last 10 years of his life tinkering with an idea.

Inside a warehouse near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, a 400-ton press is turning that idea into an invention which could change the way people enjoy popcorn at the theater, in the car, or any spot with a cup holder.

He calls it the Hands Free Popcorn Bucket.

The seed of the idea started on a terrible night: Randazzo and his wife were at a movie theater in 2014. She’s a a cervical cancer survivor who learned she would never be able to get pregnant.

“We went to the movies to escape the horrible news,” Randazzo said.

“I thought to myself, if there’s only a way I could just put this bucket in the cup holder, then I could put my arm around my wife and still eat the popcorn. That was my eureka moment.”

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Randazzo developed his first prototype in 2014. He cut a soda cup in half and glued it to the bottom of a greasy popcorn tub. It wasn’t rocket science, so Randazzo was surprised when he couldn’t find other cup holder-friendly buckets on the internet.

“He says, ‘I think you have got something here, kid,’” Randazzo remembers a patent lawyer telling him.

His innovative bucket began to take shape. Randazzo applied for, and received, two patents and began working with overseas manufacturers. It turned out to be a logistical nightmare during the COVID pandemic.  

“COVID hit and then everything went into lock down, including that company, which wiped them out of business,” Randazzo said.

He and his wife relocated from the Midwest to Mesa years later and soon found an American manufacturer willing to work with his small business.

Pacific Plastic Technology can produce close to 70 Hands Free Popcorn Buckets an hour. Plastic pellets are vacuumed from a barrel, then heated to 400 degrees before being subjected to 400 tons of pressure to be shaped into the one-of-a-kind popcorn bucket.

“They are thick and sturdy and built to last,” Randazzo said.

He launched a website in January and is now trying to get the attention of major movie theaters like AMC and Regal. Randazzo has also gone to three different Shark Tank casting calls but never made it to the final round.

He is now selling the cups online for $18. Randazzo also created and copyrighted five popcorn bucket characters — the stickers sell for $4 and can be used to create custom buckets.

His advice for other aspiring inventors? Don’t give up.

Even if the popcorn bucket invention doesn’t work out, this movie has a happy ending. Randazzo’s wife gave birth to a baby boy in 2018.

“Good things do happen,” Randazzo said. “I have lived it and seen it.”

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