The hanging art inside a new bistro on Clearwater Beach depicts rocket ships, bitcoin symbols, quotes from Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and colorful illustrations of the dog meme from dogecoin.
The unique decor has a purpose, said Ricardo Varona. It’s meant to get customers talking about cryptocurrencies, or digital money on a decentralized platform called the blockchain, said Varona, the owner of Crypto Street Restaurant.
The restaurant on the ground level of the Residence Inn by Marriott hotel at 309 Coronado Drive had its grand opening earlier this month. It occupies a space formerly held by Cousins Maine Lobster.
The menu has American and Hispanic staples named with a crypto twist: like “Crypto Cuban” sandwiches, “Dogedog” hot dogs, “To The MOOOONNN!” brownie sundaes and more.
Crypto Street Restaurant accepts all cryptocurrencies, Varona said, including “sh**tcoins.”
He said he hopes it can be a place to dispel misconceptions and get more people interested in the currency trend. Since the restaurant opened, Varona said he’s helped visitors set up accounts on Coinbase.
In his conversation with the Tampa Bay Times, Varona explained how he launched the restaurant concept. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How was this idea for a cryptocurrency restaurant born?
I have a 24-year-old son and he talked to me years ago about crypto. I was totally on the other side, “No, you’re crazy. That’s not worth anything.” How wrong I was.
I looked at it later and liked it. I wanted to start [a restaurant that accepted cryptocurrencies as payment, but] it was such an odd thing. I wanted a franchise. There was also a lot going on with the pandemic. Maintaining the profit margin was hard and we know the supply chain issues and all that.
I kept thinking I want to do something different, something fresh, and I kept thinking about crypto ... I calculated what it would be to do something new, cut ties with the franchise and started working on Crypto Street.
So far the younger crowd loves it and come back. With the older crowd, there’s a lot of people that have interest and similar stories to mine where their son or grandson taught them something. So it creates pretty cool conversations.
Have there been any struggles with getting consumers to adopt it? And how do you handle transactions?
So far we had a few transactions in crypto, though a lot of people are interested in using it. There’s also some people who just sold it or want to hold it in the longterm instead. But a lot of people understand that using it adds value.
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I do have the availability to accept through a merchant account but people prefer doing peer-to-peer. It’s secure in that you know that you’re sending it to my address and without going through a bank.
The menu lists items like “Dogedog” hot dogs and also “Crypto Cuban” sandwiches. How did you develop the menu and choose the names?
I was born in Puerto Rico with a lot of Cuban, Mexican and Spanish influence so I wanted to put a little more of me. We’re also in a hotel, so people that are on vacation are looking for burgers and food for the kids. I get products locally in and around Clearwater for most of our meats, beef, burgers or chicken breasts. They don’t even sell frozen stuff, they only sell that fresh.
With the names, I used some of the known cryptos and the cryptos that I like for inspiration. There’s a bitcoin banana split that is bigger than anything. One of our charcuterie boards is called what you call a person that only does bitcoin: Maximizers. The dogedogs have been pretty popular. Also there’s a club sandwich called the blockchain club. People rarely tell us to make a club sandwich. Instead customers say ‘I will get a blockchain.’ They’re just having fun with it and that’s pretty cool.
What is the biggest struggle for people to understand about cryptocurrencies?
There’s a lot of haters. Reputable people who have lots of followers, saying “No, this is not good.” People tend to believe that so I think that that’s the challenge. It’s just misinformation.
How do you hope to overcome that?
To just get more information out there. I’m not trying to sell you something — I mean, yeah my food — but I want to show you how you can get some money and learn something. Look into it and take your time. Because then you can see for yourself when they actually boom, that they can be something.