When Ryan Holder went for his lunch break today in Shoreditch, where he works as a front-end developer, he decided to stroll to a nearby burger stall to purchase an artisanal beef burger laced with a special spicy sauce — nothing out of the ordinary in this hip part of east London — until the burger cart owner whipped out his iPhone to receive the payment in bitcoin.
“This is the best burger in the world,” Holder declared as his ‘Angry Bear’ burger was handed to him.
Buying street food with bitcoin is a novelty, even in London’s self-styled Silicon Roundabout. The stall Holder went to is called Burger Bear, and its owner, Tom Reaney, is probably the first street food vendor in the UK to take bitcoin payments. He announced he would accept the digital currency on 25th November. It’s taken two weeks for a customer to pay for a tasty slab of Burger Bear’s beef between two buns with the cryptocurrency (here’s a Vine of the process).
Reaney said he first got interested in bitcoin about six months ago. He bought a bitcoin for about $100 and continued to monitor news about the digital currency with interest. Then a friend of his in the United States wanted to buy a jar of Burger Bear’s ‘bacon jam’, a thick sauce made of bacon and other ingredients.
“He was like, ‘can I pay you in bitcoin?'” Reaney said. “I was like, yeah, I think you can!”
— Burger Bear (@burgerbeartom) December 6, 2013
Reaney began taking payments from friends and customers in bitcoin, but he stopped tracking the cryptocurrency’s value closely. Several weeks ago, he checked his wallet to find that he had accumulated 2 BTC in total, worth about $2,000 currently. He then decided to promote bitcoin payments in an effort to encourage adoption of the currency. Reaney said: “A lot of my crowd are the coders, the geeks and the freaks on the digital scene. I love it. It’s cool to keep in tune with these guys.”
Holder, Burger Bear’s first bitcoin customer, certainly fits the bill. He started dabbling in bitcoin in 2009, initially trying to participate in a pool mining operation. It proved to be too much trouble for him at the time, so he left bitcoin alone until April this year, when he bought some of the digital currency. Now he is reinvesting his bitcoin in another pool mining service.
Holder said he was looking for places to spend bitcoin on CoinMap.org when he noticed Burger Bear’s listing. He had sampled the stall’s wares before at the Roman Road market in nearby Bethnal Green.
“I saw that I could get alpaca socks nearby, but what I really wanted to do was buy food with bitcoin. In the worst case scenario, at least you want to be able to buy food with your currency!”
Burger Bear’s Reaney plans to continue to take bitcoin payments from customers like Holder. Since starting his street food venture in May 2012, he has experimented with other unconventional payment systems, including the mobile app-based credit card payment processing software iZettle. The app allows vendors to accept credit card payments on an ad hoc basis, meaning they wouldn’t need to sign up for an account with a payment processor to take card payments. It also replaced credit card readers with a mobile app that worked on tablets and smartphones.
“I was the first person to take mobile payments with iZettle in London, and [taking bitcoin] is just about following the trend and staying digital,” he said.
Reaney said he risked everything to start Burger Bear, quitting his job in event production and pouring his life’s savings into it. But the venture has grown from strength to strength. He said his beefy creations are in the finals of the London Burger Bash to win the coveted Golden Patty Award, and that he is planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign to set up a diner in nearby Rivington Street housed in a two-storey structure made of shipping containers. He said he will continue to promote the use of bitcoin at his business.
“Lots of people were asking what it’s all about, and I’m really pleased about educating people [on bitcoin]. I just want to spread the word,” he said.
Photos: Keith Horwood