When Bored & Hungry opened in Long Beach in April, the burger joint didn’t just embrace crypto culture aesthetics. It was also all-in on the digital money part.
Sure, meme-esque references to rockets and bulls dotted the walls, and Bored Apes — those cartoon monkeys that celebrities like Paris Hilton and Post Malone have touted as six-figure investments — covered the cups and trays. But customers were also allowed to pay for their meals in cryptocurrency. The restaurant put its bitcoin where its mouth was, so to speak.
Less than three months later, amid a crypto crash that has left some investors looking out the door, that’s not always the case.
During a lull in the lunchtime rush one recent afternoon, when a cashier stamped paper bags with the fast food spot’s logo, twin menus hanging overhead — featuring Bored & Hungry’s meat-based and vegan options, respectively — showed prices only in old-fashioned American style. Dollars.
A smash burger: $9.25. Paprika Seasoned Fries: $3.50. A cup of monkey-themed soda: $3.50.
Missing: Any mention of ethereum or apecoin, the two currencies that the popup boasted, would make history by accepting it as payment.
An employee who declined to give their name said the store did not accept crypto payments. “Not today – I don’t know,” they said, refusing to clarify how long ago the store stopped accepting crypto or if that option would eventually return.
Owner Andy Nguyen did not respond to repeated emails. Company co-founder Kevin Seo later said that the restaurant shuts down its crypto payment system “occasionally” for upgrades but currently accepts ethereum and apecoin.
With both currencies down more than 60% since early April and experiencing double-digit intraday swings, it would be understood that any company would be reluctant to accept them instead of dollars. But utility can also be a factor. At the restaurant’s grand opening, an employee told The Times that the crypto payments were impractical and largely ignored by customers.
Restaurateur Andy Nguyen says he paid more than $330,000 for the various monkey-themed NFTs that form the basis of his restaurant’s brand.
(Brian Contreras/Los Angeles Times)
Nearly three months later, finding a patron who somehow cared about the restaurant’s allegiance to the crypto cause was hard.
“Yes, Ethereum is a currency in a way that you can exchange [nonfungible tokens, or] NFTs and stuff… but in terms of buying food and stuff, maybe not,” said one crypto enthusiast, Marc Coloma, as he munched on chips outside the restaurant. “People want to hold onto their ethereum. They won’t want to use it.”
Michael Powers, 46, of Long Beach, was less informed. He comes to Bored & Hungry often — as often as two or three times a week, he estimated — but although the monkey-themed signage attracted him initially, he didn’t realize the place was NFT themed until then his sons explained it to him.
Powers’ only foray into crypto, an investment in the Elon Musk-promoted dogecoin currency, didn’t end well, and he has no plans to try again. “I’ve had enough of crypto,” he said, but not the burgers, which provide a luxurious riff on In-N-Out’s “animal-like” 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.)
Another Long Beach resident, 30-year-old Richard Rubalcaba, said he bought ethereum after meeting other crypto investors during the four-hour wait for Bored & Hungry’s grand opening. But on this visit, he also paid in US dollars.
“I do not know how” [crypto purchases] would work with the crash,” he said.
The crypto ecosystem is in free fall, with high-profile companies taking drastic measures to avert disaster or collapse altogether as cryptocurrencies plummet.
The two e-currencies Bored & Hungry initially accepted, ethereum and apecoin, have fallen to about 23% and 17%, respectively, from last year’s highs. Estimates put the value of the entire sector at less than a third of what it was in early 2022.
Nor have the non-replaceable tokens that form the backbone of the Bored & Hungry brand been immune. A sort of digital trading card series built around drawings of anthropomorphic monkeys, Bored Apes counts the likes of Justin Bieber and Snoop Dogg among their owners; some have sold for millions of dollars. Yet they now face the same market pressures as the rest of the crypto economy.
According to the crypto news channel Decrypt, the series’s cheapest NFT (the “floor”) has fallen below $100,000 for the first time since last summer. The project recently saw its value roughly halved over the year. One month.
That only increases the urgency of getting new buyers into the monkey “community”.
Diners can get meat or vegetable-based burgers at Bored & Hungry — but when a reporter asked if cryptocurrency could be used to pay, he was told no.
(Brian Contreras/Los Angeles Times)
One customer – Lindsey, 33, from San Pedro – said she knew nothing about crypto but came to Bored & Hungry because she’s a fan of the vegan burger brand that carries it. But, she said, the scene in the restaurant made her want to learn more about the ecosystem.
“I’m pretty outside the world of cryptocurrency and all that sort of thing,” said Lindsey, who declined to give her last name, “so I’ll definitely go home and Google that.”
Another local, Nick Jackson, 29, said he likes collecting Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards more, but he added that previous visits to Bored & Hungry have prompted him to start researching ethereum and ape-coin.
Jessica Perez, 24, of Gardena, doesn’t track cryptocurrency either but made a return trip to Bored & Hungry. She and her friends love the burgers; she said, “We rate this over there with In-N-Out, maybe even better.”
Perez has no immediate plans to invest in crypto but would consider it. The restaurant “is a good way to promote cryptocurrency,” she said.
Perhaps that was what Nguyen thought when he spent more than $330,000 on the various monkey NFTs displayed at his restaurant.
Crypto skeptics have long warned that someone would hold the bag if the hype cycle played itself out. Better than a bag that has a burger and fries than nothing.