More NYC restaurants using reverse ATMs to get around ‘Cash-22’ dilemma
By Jennifer Gould, April 4, 2023 6:27pm
A growing handful of New York City restaurants are determined not to handle cash despite the Big Apple’s ban on refusing hard currency – and they are turning to a new twist on old technology.
Slutty Vegan, an Atlanta-based vegan comfort food chain with outposts in Harlem and Brooklyn, is among restaurants that are installing “reverse ATM machines” that spit out prepaid cards to get around the “Cash-22” dilemma, Side Dish has learned.
One service provider – called ReverseATM, appropriately enough – rents out ATM-style machines that accept cash bills in exchange for an “open loop” debit card whose balance can be used anywhere that Visa and MasterCard are accepted.
An executive at the ReverseATM – whose clients range from fast-food eateries to large sporting venues like Madison Square Garden – told Side Dish that customers are never charged a fee for the debit cards.
Restaurateur Stratis Morfogen, founder of the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, says he is currently in talks to bring the ReverseATM machines to his eateries — especially at his East Village location, which is open all night on weekends.
“Cash is dirty. We realized this during the pandemic. And it’s also not safe for our staff to have cash registers filled with cash,” Morfogen said. “When you carry cash, you are a target for criminals, and I’m not comfortable having my staff with cash.”
The New York City Council, however, passed the cashless ban in November 2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic out of concern for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who don’t have bank accounts or simply prefer to pay in cash.
A crackdown soon followed – spurring fines for businesses that skirted the law including upscale ice cream parlor Van Leeuwen and popular Bushwick pizza joint Roberta’s.
It also helped spark interest in the reverse ATM idea.
Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole, who says her business is now valued at $100 million, said the risks and hassles associated with cash took an early toll. Cole started out in September 2018 with a single food truck in Atlanta with just three items on the menu: burgers, pies and fries.
“We were making $15,000 to $20,000 a day, with five- to six-hour lines. Sometimes we had to have security because we were dealing with so much cash,” Cole said. “One time, we stepped out of the car for two minutes and someone jumped in and stole it.” 92
In addition to criminals, sticky-fingered employees and the risk of IRS audits, Cole said she wants to avoid spreading germs through money that’s literally dirty.
“It was the safest way and most honorable because everything is documented,” Cole said. “It took a stresser off me. Everything went through a system.”