Coffee shop in Batanes shows honesty can be good businessBy Yolanda Sotelo
Inquirer Northern Luzon
IVANA, Batanes—Honesty has been operating a rustic coffee shop here for 17 years now.
When customers enter the Honesty Coffee Shop, they will never encounter anyone manning the place. They help themselves to a cup of coffee or a bottle of cola, or can munch on biscuits, fried bananas and sweet potatoes that have been prepared and laid out for them at the counter.
After a nice meal, they are expected to pay for the service by dropping cash or coins into a wooden “payment box” at the counter and scribble down what they bought on a notebook.
Elena Gabilo, 77, a retired schoolteacher who owns the shop, says the system has worked well for residents of this coastal village as well as visitors.
It was on a cold morning in 1995 when then newly retired Gabilo observed fishermen boarding boats in a pier just a few meters from her house.
“[I realized] there was not a place for them to get drinking water, much less coffee, and my heart went out to them, especially the young children. In a corner, I put a thermos bottle and some coffee and sugar, for anyone to drink. I thought maybe they would leave me money, but in the afternoon when I returned there was no money at all,” she recalls.
“I told myself that was okay because I at least helped out,” she adds.
She kept leaving the fishermen coffee and food for a month. One day she discovered a few coins tucked in a box, apparently payment for her service.
It encouraged Gabilo to add biscuits and candies at the counter, and even a kilo of rice near pots and a kettle so fishermen can cook this. She also left tins of sardines.
This time, her efforts were repaid with small bills.
In 1998, a government radio station learned of Gabilo’s unique venture, and suggested that her shop be named The Honesty Store.
The store has evolved into The Honesty Coffee Shop, which also displays souvenir items for tourists.
“I don’t know if the customers drop the right amount. I don’t want to know if some people are cheating. But as far as I know, 98 percent of the customers pay the right amount,” Gabilo says.
She says two of her regular customers tried a similar venture in Manila, but they failed.
Conspicuous enough for customers to see is a sign on a wall that says: “Get what you need. Please pay (for) whatever you get. If you have no change, knock at the door. If no one answers, sorry, so you give more than the price. May your tribe increase. Remember, Honesty is the best policy.”