Vancouver entrepreneur Lisa Cheng goes out of her way to eat and shop at businesses that allow customers to pay with Bitcoin.
“Because I’ve been living off of Bitcoin for about a year, it’s way more easier for me to go and use Bitcoin at a place than having to convert it to Canadian cash or a debit card,” Cheng told the Georgia Straight over lunch at Bestie (105 East Pender Street), a German-inspired sausage parlour in Chinatown.
Cheng is the 29-year-old founder and CEO of Vanbex Group, a cryptocurrency consulting firm. After consuming currywurst and ginger lemonade at Bestie, Cheng went up to the service counter, where the cashier put a tablet in front of her. She selected a tip percentage using the touch screen, scanned a QR code with her smartphone, and sent a payment of 0.0309266 bitcoins (BTC)—worth about $13.50 at the time—from her digital wallet.
Bestie is one of more than a dozen restaurants and cafés in the Vancouver area that started accepting Bitcoin in the past year-and-a-half, though prices on their menus remain denominated in Canadian dollars. Created in 2009, Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer digital currency that isn’t issued by a government but has been embraced by Dell, Expedia, and other companies around the world.
On the other side of Chinatown, the Parker (237 Union Street) joined the growing Bitcoin economy about six months ago. Steve Da Cruz, co-owner of the vegetarian restaurant, told the Straight that people were “really stoked” when he announced the news on Facebook and Twitter, though customers only pay with Bitcoin once every two weeks or so.
While Bestie uses CoinOS—a free and open-source point-of-sale system developed by Vancouver’s Bitcoin Co-op—to process Bitcoin transactions, the Parker relies on a similar app built by Cointrader, a local company that operates an online Bitcoin exchange. Both apps run in the web browser on a tablet. Da Cruz noted that Cointrader’s app is simple, so it was a cinch to set up and show staff how to use it.
A Bitcoin user himself, Da Cruz said he views the cryptocurrency as a “cool, dynamic development in the world of finance”. He recommends other restaurants try it out in order to attract a new demographic.
“There’s no downside,” Da Cruz said, seated at a table in his restaurant. “The price fluctuates, but it’s such a small part of our bottom line. It’s more about being part of something that’s dynamic and interesting to people and creates a new conversation outside of the usual dynamic.”
In New Westminster’s River Market, Re-Up BBQ (114–810 Quayside Drive) began accepting Bitcoin almost a year ago. Since then, the southern-barbecue restaurant has done just over 2 BTC in sales with the cryptocurrency. (As of October 6, 1 BTC was worth about US$340.)
“Bitcoin was getting a lot of press at the time, and it’s an interesting new phenomenon: a non-national currency that is obviously acknowledged to be based on the common delusion of a marketplace, in this case the Internet,” co-owner Michael Kaisaris told the Straight in Re-Up’s kitchen. “I thought it was fun. I wanted to see what the market was like.”
Like the Parker, Re-Up doesn’t have a “Bitcoin accepted here” sticker out front, relying instead on word of mouth. Aside from a couple of regulars whose employers pay them in Bitcoin, Kaisaris maintained that Re-Up hasn’t gained much business by adopting the cryptocurrency.
Kaisaris noted that Re-Up uses the point-of-sale app offered by BitPay, one of the largest Bitcoin payment processors, in combination with a Blockchain wallet. Kaisaris doesn’t immediately convert the bitcoins to dollars—a move that would avoid the risk of currency fluctuations—and has cashed out only once at a Bitcoin ATM.
In May 2013, India Gate (616 Robson Street) became the first restaurant in Vancouver to accept Bitcoin. The world’s first Bitcoin ATM went live at Waves Coffee House (100–900 Howe Street) in October 2013. In June of this year, Old Country Pierogi became Metro Vancouver’s first food truck to embrace Bitcoin.
Other Bitcoin-friendly eateries in Vancouver include Central Bistro (1072 Denman Street), Francesco’s (860 Burrard Street), Lost + Found Cafe (33 West Hastings Street), Rouge Bistro (91 West 2nd Avenue), and Vera’s Burger Shack (2922 Main Street). Steamrollers (1195 Robson Street) and 24/7 Thai Vietnamese Cuisine (986 West Broadway) are also home to Bitcoin ATMs.
In September, East Vancouver’s Mega Chill became the first marijuana dispensary in Canada to accept Bitcoin. Co-owner Matt Jung is also one of the proprietors of Mega Ill (646 Kingsway), the pizzeria next door that caters to medical-marijuana users.
Jung told the Straight Mega Ill is closed for renovations but they hope to reopen it by mid-October and plan to take Bitcoin there too. He added that both businesses are “looking” at the possibility of accepting PotCoin and other cannabis-community cryptocurrencies.
“It’s been a pretty good response so far—nothing negative,” Jung said by phone from Mega Chill. “Some people, obviously, are like, ‘Oh, they’re wasting their money on Bitcoin.’ But I see it as just something new to try.”
Vanbex Group’s Cheng asserted that Bitcoin benefits businesses because it requires lower transaction fees than credit and debit cards. It also doesn’t involve the risk of chargebacks, as Bitcoin payments are irreversible.
According to Cheng, the adoption of Bitcoin by restaurants helps show people how cryptocurrencies can be used in everyday life.
“You can feed yourself, go out for drinks, pay for dinner, take someone out on a date—all using Bitcoin,” Cheng said. “It’s kind of cool.”