NFTs as Community Builders: How Local Restaurants Are Using Them to Help Grow Their Businesses


The news about cryptocurrencies lately has been terrible — crashing Stablecoin and Bitcoin in disarray as investors seek safe currency havens in dollars and gold. But instead of looking at crypto as a new, unregulated and volatile currency, dig a little deeper into the tools that make crypto a hot spot in digital finance. Crypto and one of its tools, NFTs — non-fungible tokens —  can be a force for good, one tool to build community. Tiburon’s Jon Fisher, CEO of ViciNFT, a turnkey NFT solution provider for communities and others that are committed to the common good, is doing just that.

NFTs are just one part of the bigger cryptocurrency picture. In the news as everyone from Tom Brady and Jay-Z get into the business of creating unique digital collectibles, NFTs for business, especially local restaurants, can be a powerful marketing tool. “They represent better access control and authentication for the enterprise,” says Fisher, who is working with Tiburon’s Sam’s Café and Servino to launch NFT programs this month. “This thing acts as access control at the door or as a ticket to a concert,” Fisher says. Noting that restaurateurs can reprogram an NFT in any way the business wants, Fisher described the utility of NFTs for restaurants and other businesses as the greatest boon in the tech business, maybe ever. “This is not just chasing pictures of gorillas,” he says.

Tiburon_Sams Anchor Cafe

Conor Flaherty, managing partner at Sam’s, quickly bought into the idea of NFTs as a way for the 100-year-old restaurant to bridge into the future. With the blockchain as financial record-keeper for the NFT, Flaherty is offering 244 NFTs from Sam’s, known as Genesis. The owner of the NFT, which has an initial sale price of $2,000, is granted privileges such as airdropped gift cards, access to Sam’s new annual Deckfest (held August 26–28), or other goodies unique to the NFT ownership group. At Sam’s, that also might mean the ability to jump the line for Sunday brunch. If it feels sort of clubby, that’s because it is, but there are also business realities behind the metrics: Flaherty chose the number 244 because that is how many people can fit on Sam’s deck. 

2019 Sams Anchor Cafe Interior

Those who miss out on the initial sale must look to the secondary market which, like art or collectible cars, can go up or down depending on what someone lists the NFT for. Verification of the banking transaction is the business of the blockchain, streamlined for access on your mobile device via a QR code. Using ViciNFTs solutions, Flaherty designed additional verification and authentication tools that make theft of the NFT or impersonating the NFT owner very difficult. Fisher confirms: “We make it so people don’t have to know anything about a digital wallet. There is no installation needed.”

Natale Servino of Tiburon’s Servino Ristorante, a ViciNFT client, plans to utilize the NFT platform to extend the restaurant’s value proposition, specifically access to their sought-after 40-year-old wine cellar and to rare and allocated food and wine products coming from Italy. “It’ll be a de facto ownership in our wine cellar,” Servino says. The $2,500 NFT membership grants owners access to the cellar, the ability to order from the cellar during dining visits, and reservation priority to wine dinners, producer dinners and other events. “Like everyone, the technology behind the NFT is still very new to me and complex,” Servino says, “but we see the potential to create a community of individuals that want to have a shared experience.” Think of the Servino NFT as a gateway to a highly curated food and wine club. 

Like Servino and Flaherty, SHO Group CEO and founder Josh Sigel found himself considering how to leverage the intersection of food and tech to enhance the guest experience for a new restaurant the group is opening at San Francisco’s Salesforce Park in 2023. “The community wanted to make sure these restaurants would be there in a post-Covid world,” says Sigel, who leveraged the deep ties to SHO Group’s investors to build the NFT program. Sigel reinforced the idea that differentiated experiences were part of how his restaurant group sought to foster community now and in the future, not with the buzz or cool factor of the NFT itself. The world of Web 3 and the supporting blockchain technology facilitate that support.  

Sam's cafe

With a tiered membership plan starting at $7,500 and a private lounge for NFT holders whenever the restaurant is open, SHO Group’s NFT marketplace may be more robust than Servino or Sam’s, enabling Sigel to envision a 25-year time horizon for this restaurant. But the NFTs from all of these restaurants are designed to build an easy, memorable and enjoyable guest experience. “It’s really synergistic in terms of value the community can create for one another,” Sigel says. By redefining what Sam’s is, by attracting a new audience and a dedicated community of supporters, Flaherty’s plan is for Sam’s to remain a multigenerational attraction, and to keep going for another 100 years. “The NFT will be an heirloom you can pass down to your kids,” Flaherty says, “and it can really support small business.” More than that, the NFT acts as a kind of safety net, shepherding Sam’s into a more secure future. “You [the NFT owner] are a steward of history for your kids, for your community, and for Tiburon,” Flaherty says. If that helps small restaurants build a sustainable business model, we are all in.

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Christina Mueller

Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract PublishingSunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon SocietyPEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.