In 1996, Richard Tango-Lowy began working with chocolate. Now, he’s accepting Bitcoin for his chocolates at Dancing Lion Chocolate in New Hampshire, as well as in his Etsy shop. Made with premium chocolate from all over the globe, each bar is truly a work of art, almost too pretty to eat… and the fact that you can purchase them with bitcoins makes it even sweeter!
Tango-Lowy had been aware of Bitcoin from the very start, due to his involvement in technology – he was coding in the early 80s, and he was involved with Open Source Software since the 90s. At first, his interest in Bitcoin was primarily as an observer. “Bitcoin seemed like a pretty bright idea from the beginning, but a tremendous amount of complexity comes into play when you introduce something as fundamental as a new financial system,” he told me when I asked about his first impressions of the currency. “I opted to watch and see if Bitcoins underlying premises were solid and held up to pressures of the real world market.”
A Bitcoin enthusiast stopped by his shop one day to ask Tango-Lowy to consider accepting the currency. At the time, Dancing Lion Chocolate was growing rapidly, and there was simply too much going on. “I asked him to get back to me in a year, which he did,” said Tango-Lowy. When approached again, Tango-Lowy outlined his three requirements for accepting Bitcoin: “First, it had to be trivially easy to use; second, it had to be safe and secure; and third, it had to be cheap.”
Emily Braun: Tell me about your history with chocolate and with Dancing Lion Chocolate!
Richard Tango-Lowy: I’ve been playing with chocolate for 20 years, more or less. I self-taught for ten years, then earned my Professional Chocolatier designation from Ecole Chocolat’s online course out of Vancouver. I earned Master Chocolatier designations on the ground in France and Italy.I opened Dancing Lion Chocolate in the basement of a historic building in Manchester, New Hampshire in 2007 and moved to our present 917 Elm St. location in 2011. We make everything by hand, and because we work mostly with micro-batch chocolate, we typically make each recipe only once and only produce 20 to 200 of a particular truffle or bonbon. We’re really more of an “artist” chocolatier than an “artisan”. On the cafe side, we serve savory food (which always contains chocolate), traditional Mayan drinking chocolate (frothy in a bowl, the way it’s been prepared and served for 3,000 years), and lately, our own craft ice cream.
Braun: What excites you the most about chocolate?
Tango-Lowy: I travel, taste, and explore for chocolate. Peruvian Piura region chocolate. Madagascar Sambirano Valley chocolate. Ancient, ancient Guatemalan chocolate. We work with some of the rarest and most magnificent chocolate in the world at our shop. Each behaves and tastes different, and I’m enamoured with every one of them.
Braun: Your Artist in Residence program seems really unique. Can you tell me more about that?
Tango-Lowy: I’m fortunate to have NHIA (New Hampshire Institute of Art) in our city. I started the program in 2008, when I met a young NHIA graduate, Cindy Rizza, who was interested in painting on chocolate. Cindy is an amazing artist who created some beautiful original works on our chocolate bars using colored cocoa butter. Original art on a chocolate bar; how crazy is that! Chocolate is temperature-sensitive, and painting with it is difficult. Our current artist, Katherine Donovan, has taken the work to an new level, focusing on vibrant colors and precise, delicate brush strokes. We’re holding a reception for her on July 23rd, then I’ll post her newest works to our Etsy shop.
Braun: What aspects of Bitcoin are of interest to you? How did Bitcoin fulfill the three requirements you had for accepting it as payment?
Tango-Lowy: Bitcoin is easy to accept. We enter the transaction into our physical register. The customer then pays with his Bitcoin wallet, and the transaction is complete. We use an ancient Android phone for our “Bitcoin Credit Card Machine”.
Bitcoin is safe and secure. As a vendor, it’s not practical to do business in multiple currencies. Once the transaction is validated against the block chain, it’s immediately converted to USD and transferred to our bank. The money is usually in the bank within an hour of the actual transaction, which is about 23 hours faster than our credit card processors and sometimes days faster than some of the cloud-based POS processors. Which brings us to…
Bitcoin is cheap. Our only cost is a 1% transaction fee to transfer the money to our bank, which is significantly cheaper than our credit card processor.
I source a lot of my chocolate from small farms and chocolate makers in developing countries and am particularly interested in using it for international payments. We’ll have to experiment a bit to see how it works out.
Braun: How often do customers make payments with Bitcoin?
Tango-Lowy: As you know, Etsy doesn’t have an automated way of accepting Bitcoin, so the customer must manually inform us that they’d like to pay with Bitcoin. We’ve not had any Bitcoin purchases on Etsy so far, but we’ve averaged $30-$100 USD weekly in Bitcoin sales [at our shop] since we began accepting it in May, and a local Bitcoin group has moved their weekly meetup to our shop. I consider the “Bitcoin Project” a complete success, and certainly urge other vendors to give it a try.
– Emily Braun