At The Vault Coffee Shop in Valley City, North Dakota, not only do you serve yourself a cup of java, you ring up your own bill too.
The local joint, established last October by David and Kimberly Brekke, relies on the honors system rather than employees to keep the daily grind brewing. Serving fresh coffee and pastries, patrons select what they wish, add up the bill and pay via cash or credit card.
Believe it or not, the unique venture is proving successful! In a town of just 6,000 people, profits are actually up by 15 percent.
“I realized it was unusual, I didn’t realize it was possibly unique,” David tells Ellen’s Good News. “In order for it to make sense in a particular community, there has to be the right mix of elements. But I assumed people in small towns around the country would have things similar to this.”
Turns out, The Vault is one-of-a-kind. David says he decided to set up the place sans employees to benefit the economics of the community, a place with almost no unemployment, where businesses compete for workers. Accordingly, he didn’t want to take from the well when it wasn’t necessary.
“There was no problem with me getting employees because kids like working at a coffee shop,” David explains. “I could have easily staffed it, but that’s taking employees from other businesses. I wanted this place to fold into the community, and be a benefit and help to the community.”
Furthermore, the set-up lowers his financial risk.
“This way, it’s almost failure proof,” he adds. “If you have employees, you have a greater amount of expense, so you need a greater amount of income…The loss is so minimal that if it turns out we have a bad month, we’re not going to go out of business.”
As the Brekke’s primary goal has always been to add value to the community and support local arts and culture, this policy serves multiple purposes. The Vault was built in a renovated old bank, and features an array of artwork by local artists, used books for sale, and two pianos, all of which are at a customer’s disposal.
Beyond food and drink, there are gallery exhibitions, theater performances, and independent film screenings. Customers are encouraged to chat, and many gather for bible study, book club, or board games.
“When I put this place together, I tried to figure out what would help this community the most,” says David, a business strategist who relocated from Minneapolis. “We hoped it would be a source of some income, but really it’s a community center. It’s a place where people can hang out, they play games, we sell art from local artists – it’s about arts and culture and making Valley City a better place to be. A lot of people have said it’s the coolest new addition to Valley City in a long time…It’s something joyful.”