By Nona Tepper
The first thing to know about Patrick O'Brien is that he's not a finance guy. He doesn't really play the stock market.
But after watching a friend turn an $18,000 profit over a single bitcoin, O'Brien was converted. He started pooling money from every paycheck to buy a few bitcoins. And he started accepting cryptocurrency at his Scratch Kitchen & Lounge restaurants, 7445 Madison St. in Forest Park and 733 Lake St. in Oak Park. When District House — his wood-fire restaurant and tap room at 220 Harrison St. in Oak Park opens in mid-February — he said he'll accept cryptocurrency there too.
"We're making [efforts] out there to try and catch any trend we can," O'Brien said. "Weird things sometimes catch on. Business has been a little rough and we're doing something unique to turn ahead."
Like most bars and restaurants along Madison Street, O'Brien said business for Scratch Kitchen in Forest Park is down this year. He estimated the restaurant will gross just under $1 million in 2017, down 10 percent from the year before. After talking with the food and drink distributors that supply other Madison Street establishments, O'Brien said he believes area restaurants' revenue is also down about 20 percent year over year. O'Brien said he doesn't know why it's down in Forest Park — maybe customers are Uber-ing into Rosemont or Chicago's trendy West Loop neighborhood — but he hasn't had that problem in Oak Park. There, business has been growing every month. He said he'll probably turn $2 million in Oak Park in 2017, his first year open.
O'Brien's lowered prices, introduced specials and negotiated with the landlord of his Forest Park location as a way to cut costs. Now, to drum up business, Scratch Kitchen started accepting bitqy electronic currency as of Dec. 14, becoming the first local business to do so and joining more than 100 Illinois businesses to jump that trend. Now customers can pay for their burgers by transferring bitqy from their phones. They must create an online account, called a qyckwallet, and then transfer their bitqys to Scratch Kitchen's qyckwallet. O'Brien got involved with the cryptocurrency through Lyn Bayan, a local bitqy evangelist, whom he calls the "bitqyck girl."
Bayan is responsible for getting Chicago-area companies to offer their products through Bitqyck Inc.'s travel, health, retail and other product and service sites. Bitqyck is founded in Dallas, Texas and is the first U.S.-based cryptocurrency company. She said she has plans to talk to Junction Diner, 7401 Madison St., about introducing bitqy in early 2018.
"People already made millions from this," Bayan said, referring to other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. "People got involved in 2009, bought hundreds worth of coins, thousands of coins at that time. Today they're millionaires. Bitqy is in that position, pennies fluctuating. It will be a couple of years before it goes upscale in value."
Right now, bitqy trades for pennies. Like other cryptocurrencies, bitqy also trades hands anonymously. That means O'Brien can claim as much — or as little — as he wants on his taxes for bitqy earnings.
In the first quarter of 2018, Scratch will offer deals through Qyckdeals, the cryptocurrency's new Groupon-like site that offers customers daily restaurant, consumer product and service deals. Once O'Brien signs up for Qyckdeals, Scratch will be able to accept bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin cryptocurrencies.
O'Brien soon plans to unveil a special bitcoin burger, along with an appetizer of mozzarella fried golden, the color of the online currency, and topped with pesto aioli drizzled in the symbol of a bitcoin. So far, no customers have paid in bitqy yet. O'Brien believes the food specials will help drive use.
"Selling food is our primary source of income," O'Brien said. But, "there's no reason [Scratch] couldn't get on the cryptotrain like I am."