Cards Could Be King at New Fast-Food Restaurant

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Tony Zazula made headlines for banning cash from his upscale New York restaurant. Now he's trying to bring that policy to the masses.

Zazula, who co-owns the West Village restaurant Commerce, is planning to launch a chain of fast-food restaurants — where he may only accept credit and debit cards.

"We're debating now about whether it will be cards-only," he told American Banker in an interview last week.

Zazula became an unusual credit card industry hero in 2009, when he stopped accepting cash at Commerce. Almost 90% of his well-heeled customers already paid for their tuna tataki and house-made charcuterie with plastic, he reasoned, so Commerce did not stand to lose much business by instituting a cards-only policy. And banning cash would help the restaurant avoid some of the security costs and inconvenience of handling it.

But a similar ban may be more difficult in the fast-food world, where the average customer is likely to have less money than Commerce's affluent regulars. Many of those customers may not even have debit cards, let alone platinum credit cards.

Zazula said that his new project will be a "quick-casual concept," like Chipotle or other more sophisticated fast-food chains, and that the average check per customer will be "somewhere in the area of $10 to $12."

The chain's first location will be in New York, where Zazula is currently scouting real estate. He said he had just turned down a deal on Bleecker Street, close to New York University and its hungry students, because of some "occupancy problems" with the lease.

"We've been working on it for a while," he said. "It'll be an interesting experiment."

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