Confused about Bitcoin?
Probably, because about all the vast majority of us know about the cryptocurrency is that one is likely worth more than your car right now.
But two Modesto businesses are betting big on the digital currency. Rancho Fresco Mexican Grill in downtown Modesto and a Chevron station on McHenry Avenue are among the first in town to either accept or sell Bitcoin on site. The former has been accepting Bitcoin as payment for its Mexican food for the past year. The latter recently installed a Bitcoin ATM where people can buy Bitcoin — or more likely a portion of a Bitcoin — with cash.
Created in 2009, Bitcoin is a relatively new cryptocurrency originally meant to make anonymous person-to-person transactions without having to use or pay a middleman like a bank or other central administrator. Since then the global currency has caught on and in the last year its value has shot up — and sometimes back down — dramatically. This past December it hit an all-time peak, at $19,783.06 for one Bitcoin. This week the currency has been worth around $10,000 per Bitcoin.
Never miss a local story.
Rancho Fresco owner Ismael Covarrubias got into Bitcoin about two years ago after a customer came in and began talking with him about the cryptocurrency. He saw it as a way to eliminate the bank fees he has to pay to credit card companies, which make up about 85 percent of his food sales. Since then he has become a self-styled Bitcoin evangelist, and belongs to AirBit Club, a multilevel network where people with memberships can trade and profit off of cryptocurrencies.
He estimates the restaurant has done about $1,000 in business through the currency. Customers can choose to pay for their tacos, burritos and quesadillas using either dollars, Bitcoin or Ethereum (another popular cryptocurrency). If they choose Bitcoin, Covarrubias has a special tablet for transactions loaded up with an app to accept payment from a digital wallet. And, because each Bitcoin can be divided to the eighth decimal point (or 1/100000000th), you can still pay for small value items — like a burrito — with ease.
“People keep saying Bitcoin is the future, but it’s already here,” Covarrubias said.
This week he added a large, lighted Bitcoin sign in his front window. The sign joins the stickers he already had on his door and in front of the cash register as a way to get people aware and curious about Bitcoin.
“Some people who have never heard about it ask, ‘What is Bitcoin?’ But others who already know get excited when they see it,” he said. “I think it’s very similar to credit cards in the 1980s. At first people weren’t sure who took the cards, if they were reliable. It’s just a matter of time before everyone finds out about this and starts using it.”
But before people can start using it, they have to buy in. To do so people need to choose a digital wallet from the several free apps that have sprung up to store Bitcoins. Then they need to choose a trader to buy them from.
That’s where CoinWorks, a new Bitcoin ATM operator, comes in. The company installed a Bitcoin ATM inside the Chevron FoodMart at the corner of McHenry and Orangeburg avenues about a month ago. The small machine can be used to buy Bitcoin with cash. Right now one thousandth of a Bitcoin, or 1 mBTC, can be purchased for $12.84 via the ATM.
Adam Davis, regional manager with CoinWorks, said the company has other existing ATMS at minimarts in Stockton and Dublin.
“The reason for locations like that is it’s convenient and quick. That goes hand in hand with other ATM services. So this gives people the opportunity to get a piece of the action, purchase Bitcoin,” Davis said. “People are excited to buy what they can afford right now.”
Covarrubias also plans to install a Bitcoin ATM in his restaurant within the next few months. He said for a businessman like himself, getting into Bitcoin just made sense. It simply gives customers another way to pay.
“Down the road, someone is going to walk in and say, ‘Do you accept Bitcoin?’ And you don’t and the business across the street does, they’re going to walk out and go there,” he said.