One West L.A. restaurant has been bitten by the Bitcoin bug.

Celine Sopelo, owner of French café and flower shop Le Petit Jardin, is accepting Bitcoin, a digital decentralized currency that has been growing in popularity. Patrons with online Bitcoin accounts can pay with digitized bar codes on their phones that transfer the currency to Sopelo when she scans it.

There is no single entity that backs the Bitcoin, which first surfaced in 2008. Instead, a complex string of algorithms controls transactions and prevents double spending.

Sopelo, who’s pushing 50, became one of the first restaurateurs in Los Angeles to adopt Bitcoins three months ago after a 21-year-old family friend from Germany told her about its increasing use in Europe – and its rising value.

Adopting the payment method, she said, will keep her ahead of the trend and might bring young Bitcoin users to her establishment.

According to Mt. Gox, one of the largest Bitcoin currency exchanges, the value of one Bitcoin has increased more than 400 percent since the end of July and was worth about $435 last week.

When patrons want to pay in Bitcoins, Sopelo first divides the bill by the Bitcoin’s current conversion rate. She then processes her patrons’ payment by scanning a code on their phones to transfer Bitcoins to Sopelo’s digital wallet. She can cash out using a variety of banking services.

Sopelo said the recent rise in the value of the Bitcoin made it attractive.

“The benefit of taking Bitcoins is that it’s an investment for me,” she said.

Still, she said, it is not without challenges. Users still have to tip with more traditional payment options because there’s no way to efficiently distribute tips to her waiters in the currency. The payment also takes several minutes to process.

And it’s still relatively unknown. Three months after Sopelo started taking Bitcoin payments, her first Bitcoin-using patrons arrived last Tuesday after seeing one of her friends post about it on the Reddit website the previous day.

“Why not try it?” Sopelo said. “I’ve read in European journals that a lot of people are starting to buy it and are using it instead of credit cards.”

Dinner Party

Victor Drai is re-entering the L.A. restaurant scene.

Drai, known for producing films (“Weekend at Bernie’s” and “The Woman in Red”) and opening Las Vegas nightclubs (XS and Tryst), will open a 4,000-square-foot steakhouse, Rare by Drai, at Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood early next month. The restaurant will take space formerly occupied by BLT Steak. Drai plans to open a nightclub beneath the restaurant in February.

The steakhouse will feature two dining rooms, a bar and patio. Drai will also have DJ’s spinning music to raise the energy levels of his diners in hopes the ambience, which he likened to a dinner party, will help differentiate his establishment.

“Today’s steakhouses are boring. People need louder music, but it won’t be extreme,” he said.

The launch of his steakhouse follows the closure of two of his Hollywood ventures, a restaurant and nightclub, both called Drai’s Hollywood, on the roof of the W Hotel.

He said the old location was great for a nightclub but couldn’t draw Westsiders.

“The restaurant was gorgeous, but was an hour away with traffic,” Drai said. “People went to it once and didn’t come back.”

Karma App

Kenneth Hepburn, founder of LivnGiv in Venice, launched an app this month that could help diners accrue “karma points” faster.

LivnGiv’s app allows diners to buy a gift certificate for a participating restaurant. A percentage of that certificate will go to a charity of the patron’s choice. So far, 18 restaurants and charities like Habitat for Humanity and American Red Cross have signed on.

LivnGiv takes a 15 percent fee on each transaction.

“Restaurants have been doing card marketing for decades,” Hepburn said. “So it is good for business because they keep doing it.”

He said the concept makes it easier for restaurants to participate in charities. The app’s biggest draw is that it allows for participating restaurants to draw in volunteers and supporters of causes who might not otherwise have gone there. Frequent users get discounted meals.

“Daily Deals and Groupons attracted the wrong customers; people who weren’t coming back. We’re leveraging charities as a distribution network,” he said. “People who are volunteers and contributors earn more money.”

Revolving Doors

Several restaurants will soon occupy Playa Vista’s Runway mixed-used center: Hopdoddy Burger Bar, fast-casual Lyfe Kitchen, Mediterranean restaurant Panini Café and Mexican restaurant Sol Cocina all signed leases. … Japanese Teppanyaki chain restaurant Benihana was scheduled to open a 7,0000-square-foot restaurant in Westfield Santa Anita Mall this week. … Restaurateur Adam Fleischman is planning to open a downtown L.A. location next year for his 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria concept. The 4,800-square-foot store at 800 Wilshire Blvd. will feature 100 seats and a full cocktail bar. … Yoga apparel company Lululemon Athletica has signed a long-term lease with Maxxam Enterprises for a 6,400-square-foot location on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

Staff reporter Justin Yang can be reached at jyang@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext 228.

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