A month ago, Okra Hong Kong, a modern Izakaya and Sake Bar, one of the first restaurants in Hong Kong to accept cryptocurrencies – the world’s most innovative digital payment method in order to provide guests with enhanced security and payment convenience.
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Okra Hong Kong is a modern Izakaya and Sake Bar in the Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood of Hong Kong, by acclaimed chef and entrepreneur Max Levy, Okra Hong Kong opened in 2015 and is an extension of the original Okra 1949 from Beijing, China.
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Chef Max Levy of Okra Hong Kong.
RiA: You are one of the first F&B concepts in Hong Kong to accept cryptocurrencies; how do you think this is going to expand your target market?
Chef Max Levy: With almost all technological innovations that happen in society, the food and beverage industry is usually the last to adopt or benefit from them.
Hong Kong, for as much as the city is considered a financial hub, is far behind even places like Cambodia in terms of cashless and digital payments, let alone our digital neighbors to the north in Shenzhen.
I see the opportunity for Hong Kong and its catering industry to really jump ahead on this. As all our banking systems are already set up to easily handle multiple currency accounts and cross-border transactions, we are in the perfect position to adopt this new technology.
My short-term goal is to educate our customers and encourage them to find out more about blockchain technologies and the benefits that can be had adopting them. Bitcoin was theorized as a decentralized currency, not as an investment, so the quicker we start to consider other cryptos as currency rather than assets, the faster that government adoption and use will come along to hopefully clean up the global banking industry that often costs smaller businesses so much in fees.
RiA: What pushed you to make this decision?
Chef Max Levy: Last year, as we watched our revenues dwindle to 25% of 2019 and 2018 levels, our costs were going up, as banks and credit card clearers raised their fees and percentages. With forced restaurant closures at night, we adopted a delivery model while we could not offer dine-in service. However, popular delivery companies that we tried charge 32% of the bill cost and customers are always shocked to hear this as they are also charged a delivery fee and a service fee on top of their order. So our revenue had gone down and the amount of profit going into our bank also went down. We then saw the banks raise their fees. All of these fees were being attributed to “the cost of handling money”, but there has to be another way. So I strongly believe that cryptocurrency could well provide the answer through greater adoption.
Moreover, we have always tried to pivot with the newest technology outside of social media to help offer a better and more rewarding experience for our guests. The evolving world of digital currency and blockchain is something that will benefit not only our industry by saving us high transaction fees from banks and credit card processing companies, but it will soon become a much more beneficial way for our guests to pay.
RiA: Do you think other F&B concepts will follow your example?
Chef Max Levy: We have already seen other restaurants in Hong Kong start to accept. I think things will really start to change if one of the bigger food and beverage groups starts to look at it as well and follow this forerunning new payment solution.
Restaurant chains in Venezuela have already started broad adoption, but that is mostly due to the unstable local currency, which is also something for Hong Kong to consider. With our local currency pegged to the US dollar, we are beholden to the legislature and performance of a market that we are no longer as reliant on as in the past. This makes our cross-border transactions with China and other neighboring nations more costly.
RiA: At a higher level, do you think more businesses will be moving into this direction?
Chef Max Levy: As with most monetary advances, we will probably see a trickle-down effect first. However, with the accessibility and open source nature of it, we have the ability to change that from the ground up.
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RiA: How do you think Hong Kong consumers will embrace this new type of payment?
Chef Max Levy: In the short time since we have openly accepted it, we had at least one check per night paid in either ETH or XRP. That says a lot right there. People in Hong Kong are excited at the anonymity of it and the possibility of breaking the chains of big banks.