Only In North Dakota: Coffee Shop With No Employees Works On The Honor System

North Dakotans are hearing a lot these days about how our state is changing. And to be sure, there are a lot of changes, but most of what we hear about is the negative.

People claim that western North Dakota is being destroyed by oil development. We’re told that a surge in population has brought with it excessive traffic and spiking crime rates. Every week or so it seems like some national media outlet is doing one of those “dark side of the oil boom” stories.

So it’s nice to be reminded that there’s still something pretty quaint about living here. Like the fact that at most gas stations you can fill your tank before going inside to pay.

Or how about a self-serving coffee shop that runs on the honor system? Meaning you serve yourself, and pay for what you take?

It’s a pretty unique way to run a business in this cynical age, and it’s working in Valley City. The business isn’t profitable yet (not unusual for a new venture), but according to the owner people aren’t just honest. They’re downright generous. They’re paying about 15 percent more than the cost of what they’re taking.

It would be a mistake for North Dakotans to buy into the cynicism being pushed about our state (mostly for reasons having to do with politics and media sensationalism). This is still a special place, and our recent growth (both socially and economically) is enhancing that, not destroying it.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • flamemeister

    Well, they did lose a table to some midnight skulkers, but it is a great hangout and meeting place for local characters—certainly first class for ND and destined to become a local institution.

    • awfulorv

      I’ve heard there’s a local Valley City business that makes just about the best tasting frozen pizza anywhere.
      Anyone have any thoughts on that?
      And if it’s that good, why shouldn’t your bloated state coffers be used to do a bit of financing and make them a well known, nationwide brand?

      • flamemeister

        My personal experience: Pizza Corner pizza. Average +. Reputation is marketing hype in my opinion. Personally, for pizza available in this state, Frozen DiGiorno’s is as good as any and better than most—except maybe Green Mill. Pizza Corner does have a pretty good distribution in the Upper Midwest, but I can’t imagine them competing on a national level. Think of California, N.Y. and Chicago pizza. There is, however, an excellent pizza place about a block south of the British museum …
        There seem to be a lot of pizza joints in Fargo. Any recommendations?

        • awfulorv

          Yes, I recommend you Google, or You Tube, Mark Cuban being interviewed on many subjects at the conference. He’s a damn interesting fellow, and of course, there’s Admiral McCreaven giving his commencement address at Univ. of Texas a few weeks ago. That’ll make ya stand up and cheer.

        • Drain52

          Ate once at Rhombus Guys, downtown Fargo. Very good pizza, but a little pricey. You get what you pay for, in sum.

          • flamemeister

            Will give it a try. Thanks.

        • Kate

          Rhombus Guys, hands down!

  • awfulorv

    They’re paying 15% more than they’re taking and there’s no profit?
    I’ve heard about this happening in Mafia run casinos, but skimming in coffee shops?

    • Rob

      Obviously, the people showing up are paying plenty.

      Apparently what they need is more people to show up.

      • flamemeister

        Recent movies are shown. Expensive. Big weekly loss.

      • realitybasedbob

        Also only in Seattle!

        Seattle Coffeeshop Relies on the Honor System

        A new coffeehouse in suburban Seattle is banking on the honesty of its patrons. There are no cashiers, no set prices, not even suggested prices. You pay what you want.

    • flamemeister

      The biz owner provides a weekly relatively recent movie for $3 a head. If you filled the place, it wouldn’t cover the cost. I would guess that that will produce a net loss for some time to come.

  • Paul Stenshoel

    From a wrinkle, in the North Dakota culture. Finally, a seed a that grows from the nature fabric, unsubsidized.

  • John_Wayne_American

    over paying? like the people that want to buy my junk on Craigslist want to? I wonder if they use Western Union.

    On a good note some poor fella in Spain’s uncle passed away, and he is going to give me half, just for the use of my US bank account for a few weeks until the estate is settled. as Homer would say whaHoo! :)

    • Drain52

      That’s funny. A Nigerian relative of a friend made me the same offer. What are the odds?

      • awfulorv

        There’s a new one on the internet.
        Guys got a come on that all roads in America should be capable of generating solar power through a thick glass, and silicone material.
        Doesn’t say how durable the glass will be under semi tires.
        You can become a “stakeholder” for $20-$50-$100, or more, if you hurry and get in on the ground glass.

        • Drain52

          Now that’s a deal anyone should be able to see through.

  • Hi-Liner Diner

    What is the point of mentioning the oil boom in an article about a coffee shop in a town 50 miles from the eastern North Dakota border? Valley City is at least 3 hours from any oil development. Is there some pro-oil agenda you’re pushing here, or are you just that bad at geography?