Devin De Wulf, leader of the Krewe of Red Beans, with BeanCoin posters in New Orleans, Louisiana, US, on February 11 2021. Picture: BLOOMBERG/BRYAN TARNOWSKI
Devin De Wulf, leader of the Krewe of Red Beans, with BeanCoin posters in New Orleans, Louisiana, US, on February 11 2021. Picture: BLOOMBERG/BRYAN TARNOWSKI

Houston — New Orleans drinking holes are facing financial disaster as city leaders shut them down for Mardi Gras — their busiest time of the year — but a home-grown currency is offering a lifeline.

A local group called the Krewe of Red Beans launched a crowdfunded “currency” programme this week that’ll funnel cash to bars so they can stay afloat amid the city-wide shutdown. The cash-fronting mechanism is cheekily named BeanCoin but it’s not a cryptocurrency, since it’s not a digital currency and its value doesn’t fluctuate.

For $10, supporters can buy a BeanCoin that’s equivalent to a $10 bar tab at local joints. Customers can cash them in starting in 2022, when the virus, presumably, will be under control, but publicans don’t have to wait for the money: 50% of the value is delivered now, in advance of imbibers. The small, red, glass tokens are named for the beans that are a staple of South Louisiana cuisine.

The cash-fronting mechanism allows neighbourhood bars to pay rent, insurance, utility bills and salaries, despite the temporary closures for peak season ordered by mayor LaToya Cantrell to stave off a virus surge. If the idea sounds too Pollyanna to actually work, plenty of Crescent City residents have already anted up: purchases have already topped $46,000 a little more than 48 hours after going on sale.

More than a quarter of the 670 different donors don’t even live in Louisiana, hailing from as far afield as Germany and the UK

“People recognise how precarious the situation is for bars,” Devin De Wulf, the leader of the Krewe of Red Beans, said. “These businesses, maybe they’ve hung on for a year, maybe they can survive for a bit. But we want to increase their chances and they need the money now.”

Billion-dollar holiday

Mardi Gras creates almost $1bn in economic impact in New Orleans, according to a 2020 report by WalletHub. On average, the city’s bars bring in close to double their normal revenue during the prime days of the celebration, a study by local commerce platform Womply found.

One establishment that could use the help is Seal’s Class Act, a black-owned dive bar run by Cecile “Ms Seal” Dalton, where late nights often feature smoked ribs out on the sidewalk and the legendary Treme Brass Band inside.

“Oh my God I am so behind on my bills, and I am really, really hurting so bad,” Dalton said in an interview. “I kept thinking, well at least for Mardi Gras I can get a little something. And now we can’t do nothing. If we could get some help, just to help us get back, I think that would be wonderful and I appreciate it.”

Community pillars

Local businesses will be selected to receive BeanCoin proceeds based on a rubric that De Wulf said aims to spread resources to bars considered community pillars, such as those spots where live black music thrives, small-scale parades begin, or where Mardi Gras Indians — a treasured sub-culture in the city — gather for the annual pre-Lenten celebration.

Krewes is a type of social club unique to South Louisiana that march in and help organise the region’s flamboyant parades in the run-up to the Easter season.

Though bars lining Bourbon Street can count on tourist dollars to help revive them when the closures lift, the cozy, out-of-the-way joints that locals flock to and cherish are more vulnerable, De Wulf said.

The idea isn’t the first save-the-city concept to spring from the brains trust of De Wulf and his krewe since the pandemic began. They were one of the country’s first groups to develop a programme of getting restaurant meals to hospital workers. Called “Feed the Frontline NOLA,” that programme raised more than $1m and has been duplicated in cities across the US.

De Wulf sees BeanCoin as having the potential to go just as far. “It’s a way for us to support ourselves before we lose the things we care about.”


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