A self–service coffee shop in North Dakota is a testament to human trust, and community support.

Can a self-service store with no employees based on trust system be successful? Or will it just be stolen from? That’s exactly what David Brekke, business strategy consultant, and his wife Kimberly set to find out last October when they opened The Vault coffee shop in Valley City, North Dakota– a coffee shop that is completely self service with no employees. And as it turns out, the trust– system business model the Brekke’s pioneered is lucrative, and even more so than they anticipated.

The reasons for opening the self service coffee shop were two–fold: first the Brekke’s wanted a coffee shop that was open late– the existing coffee shop in Valley city closed early. In order to have a coffee shop open late they needed to minimize overhead, and the easiest way to do that? Don’t have employees.

Secondly, the Brekke’s needed to differentiate their coffee shop from the other coffee shop in Valley City that they had grown fond of and didn’t want to compete with. “If you want the full service effect you go across the street. If you want a place where you can be quiet, and sit for hours without being bothered, you go to The Vault,” David Brekke explains.

And what about the problem of theft? Well, on average the Brekke’s receive 15% more money in The Vault’s cash register than goods that are taken. That’s right. People aren’t stealing– they’re actually paying more than the price of the goods they’re consuming. The Brekke’s do have cameras installed in The Vault just to be safe, and though they have noticed teenagers stealing soda on occasion, often the friends of the person who stole the soda leaves enough money to cover the cost of the beverage that was taken.

And don’t be too quick to write off Vault coffee as a one–of because it is located in a small town. David Brekke thinks the idea could work in larger communities too, “I don’t think it’s about the size [of the town], I think it’s about the nature of the people in the community and how close knit that community is. It’s all about the relationships of those people,” Brekke explains.

You might not see baristas going anywhere anytime soon, but The Vault, if nothing else, is a breath of fresh air for human trust and an example of how success isn’t about individuals, it’s about a community. If you have trust in the community, and a belief that people are generally good, which they are, then you can push the boundaries of what we conceive a business to be, and open a coffee shop without employees, and maybe someday we won’t have to lock our doors, or worry about walking alone at night. But for now I’ll settle for getting my own coffee.

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