Inside the crypto restaurant after the crypto crash
When Bored & Hungry first opened in Long Beach in April, the burger joint didn’t just embrace the aesthetics of crypto culture. It was all-in on the digital money part too.
Sure, meme-y references to rockets and bulls dotted the walls, and Bored Apes — those cartoon monkeys that celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Post Malone have touted as six-figure investments — covered the cups and trays. But customers were also offered the option to pay for their meals in cryptocurrency. The restaurant was putting its bitcoin where its mouth was, so to speak.
Not even three months later, in the midst of a crypto crash that has some investors looking for the door, that’s not always the case.
During a lull in the lunch rush one recent afternoon, as a cashier stamped paper bags with the fast-food spot’s logo, twin menus hanging over his head — listing Bored & Hungry’s meat-based and vegan options, respectively — showed prices only in old-fashioned U.S. dollars.
A smashburger: $9.25. Pepper-seasoned fries: $3.50. An ape-themed cup of soda: $3.50.
Missing: any mention of ethereum or apecoin, the two currencies the popup boasted it would make history by accepting as payment.
An employee who declined to give their name said that the store wasn’t accepting crypto payments. “Not today — I don’t know,” they said, declining to clarify how long ago the store stopped accepting crypto or whether that option would eventually return.
Owner Andy Nguyen didn’t respond to repeated emails. Company co-founder Kevin Seo later said the restaurant has shut off its crypto payments system “from time to time” for upgrades but is currently accepting ethereum and apecoin.
With both coins down more than 60% since early April and undergoing double-digit intraday swings, it would be understandable for any business to be reluctant to accept them in lieu of dollars. But utility may also be a factor. At the restaurant’s grand opening, a staffer told The Times that the crypto payments were unwieldy and going largely ignored by customers.
Nearly three months later, it was hard to find a patron who cared much one way or the other about the restaurant’s fidelity to the crypto cause.
“Yes, ethereum is a currency in a way where you can exchange [nonfungible tokens, or] NFTs and stuff … but as far as buying food and all that, maybe not,” one crypto-enthusiast diner, Marc Coloma, said as he munched on fries outside the restaurant. “People want to hold on to their ethereum. They’re not gonna want to use it.”
Michael Powers, 46, of Long Beach was less in the loop. He comes to Bored & Hungry a lot — as often as two or three times a week, he estimated — but although the ape-themed signage was what first drew him in, he didn’t know the spot was NFT-themed until his sons explained it to him.
Powers’ one foray into crypto, an investment in the Elon Musk-promoted currency dogecoin, didn’t end well, and he doesn’t plan on trying again. “I’ve had my fill” of crypto, he said — though not of the burgers, which offer an upscale riff on In-N-Out’s “animal style” sandwiches. (The chopped onions and creamy sauce are a nice touch that, incidentally, isn’t subject to wild swings in value or exorbitant transaction fees.)
I went to the NFT restaurant and all I got was this lousy article
Another Long Beach local, 30-year-old Richard Rubalcaba, said he bought into ethereum after meeting other crypto investors during the four-hour wait for Bored & Hungry’s grand opening. But on this visit he too paid in U.S. dollars.
“I don’t know how [crypto purchases] would work, with the crash,” he said.
The crypto ecosystem is currently in free-fall, with high-profile companies either taking drastic steps to stave off catastrophe or simply collapsing altogether, while cryptocurrencies themselves plunge in value.
The two e-currencies that Bored & Hungry initially accepted, ethereum and apecoin, are down to about 23% and 17% of their highs over the last year, respectively. Estimates put the entire sector’s worth at less than a third of what it was in early 2022.
Nor have the nonfungible tokens that form the backbone of Bored & Hungry’s brand been immune. A sort of digital trading card series built around drawings of anthropomorphic monkeys, Bored Apes count the likes of Justin Bieber and Snoop Dogg among their owners; some have sold for millions of dollars. Yet they’re now facing the same market pressures as the rest of the crypto economy.
According to the crypto news outlet Decrypt, the cheapest available NFT in the series (that is, the “floor”) has fallen below $100,000 for the first time since last summer, and the project as a whole recently saw its value approximately halved over the course of a month.
That only raises the urgency of getting new buyers into the ape “community.”
One customer — Lindsey, 33, of San Pedro — said she didn’t know anything about crypto but came to Bored & Hungry because she’s a fan of the vegan burger brand it carries. But, she said, the scene at the restaurant made her want to learn more about the ecosystem.
“I’m pretty outside the world of cryptocurrency and all that stuff,” said Lindsey, who declined to give her last name, “so I’m definitely gonna go home and Google that.”
Another local, Nick Jackson, 29, said he’s more into collecting Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards — but added that previous visits to Bored & Hungry prompted him to start researching ethereum and apecoin too.
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Jessica Perez, 24, of Gardena doesn’t follow cryptocurrency either but was making a return trip to Bored & Hungry. She and her friends like the burgers, she said: “We rate this up there with In-N-Out, maybe even better.”
Perez doesn’t have any immediate plans to invest in crypto but says she would consider it. The restaurant “is a good way to promote cryptocurrency,” she said.
Perhaps that was what Nguyen was thinking when he spent more than $330,000 on the various ape NFTs on display at his restaurant.
Crypto skeptics have long warned that someone would get left holding the bag when the hype cycle played itself out. Better that bag should contain a burger and fries than nothing at all.
5:06 p.m. June 27, 2022: This story has been updated with comment from Bored & Hungry co-founder Kevin Seo.