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North Dakota coffee shop on honor system making a profit


Word of a North Dakota coffee shop that runs on the honor system has made headlines worldwide, and now the shop is making a profit for the first time since it opened last fall.

The Vault Coffee Shop and Bakery in Valley City, North Dakota, bills itself as "the world's only unmanned self service coffee shop" – there's no barista, just a slot for checks and cash, and a credit card reader.

For the first time since opening in October, the coffee shop broke even, WDAY reports.

David Brekke told WDAY when the story of his coffee shop, which he owns with his wife, first came out in June he was getting calls from media organizations around the world. The Vault has been featured on NBC News, Huffington Post, The Associated Press and CBS News, among others.

But all the attention hasn't given Brekke a surge in business, although the Vault started making a profit a month before he expected it would, WDAY says. He told the news station that his coffee shop has given small town America "a lot of good press." Adding, "I think people underestimate the value of living in a small town."

On the shop's website, it says "Generally speaking the people of Valley City are more generous than dishonest. In the first seven months of being open, we averaged 15 percent more than our asking prices."

The Vault is in a renovated bank building and to cut costs they cut out baristas. On a former teller counter, there's a commercial brewer, a single-serve Keurig brewing system, soft drinks and homemade pastries.

Customers are encouraged to stay as long as they'd like, they're just asked to put the appropriate amount of money in a payment slot on the counter (see photo at left) – or enter in the amount on a credit card reader and scan their card. No I.O.U.'s are allowed, but a sign says, "Exact change is not necessary, round down and give yourself a break or round up and help us stay in business."

In addition to food and drink, the coffee shop sells books (the rule is "like a book, give a dollar. Love a book, give $5"), it plays weekly movies, displays local artists' work, offers two pianos to play and free WiFi, among other things.

The coffee shop does have cameras, which mainly serve to provide a safe atmosphere for guests, the Vault says on its website. Brekke told The AP that so far there hasn't been much to see on surveillance video.

Not only has the Vault become a popular place for Valley City's 6,700 residents, but The AP says it's also helped revitalize the city's downtown area, which is located about 45 minutes west of Fargo.

A recent social study by the beverage company Honest Tea ranked how honest people in different states are by setting up unmanned tea stands in over 60 cities across all 50 states. Signs instructed patrons to pay $1 on the honor system for a cold beverage.

The company ranked cities and states in the National Honesty Index – Minnesota came in second to last with an 85 percent honesty ranking, while North Dakota placed 18th with 96 percent. The national average was 95 percent.

Paying by the honor system isn't new for American businesses. Since 2010, Panera Bread has opened five non-profit restaurants (none in Minnesota) where customers receive a suggested bill and donate what money they can, if a customer is unable to pay they're asked to donate their time.

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