Cafe owner thrives with no-pricing policy

no_price_cafeI hang out at a local café (you may have noticed I use many imaginative dialogues at the beginning of posts and they’re almost always in a café). I also do some of my own work at the café plus volunteering a little marketing and promotion—basically, I like the place.

However, this creeping, crawling economic downturn (aka recession or crunch) hit the owner of Java Street Café  pretty hard. I’ve spent hours talking business with him and watched as a bright and friendly man became progressively morose and extremely exhausted (when a business has hard times, paying employees becomes a problem and the owner has to not only run the business but literally Work  it).

Months went by, things getting worse, while the owner, Sam, in spite of the grueling conditions, continued  to try various ideas to attract customers…

Finally, last week, an idea he’d been experimenting with became a what-the-hell—”I can’t lose more than I already have”—Decision:

Take All The Prices Off The Menu—let people pay whatever they  feel is a Fair Price!

Sam had his back against the wall, he was willing to try just about anything, and he “happened” to choose and made a commitment to act  on what could seem like a very crazy idea…

That was last week…

Since then, he’s been interviewed on CNN twice, phone interviewed on MSNBC and Fox, appeared on all four of the local channels, been on three out-of-state radio talk shows, will be appearing in a morning cooking segment on the local Fox affiliate, and received calls of thanks from three other states and Canada…

As if that weren’t enough, the blogosphere is starting to warm up to the story and it’s on the edge of tipping into the viral realm.


Because it’s “crazy” and unusual?


That may have been the initial and conscious decision of the media but, after watching it happen and, especially, watching his customers react, the real and deeper reason for all the interest certainly seems to be related to a nearly archaic principle—Business Ethics…

Sam’s customer’s have a variety of reactions when he takes their order then says, “O.K., what do you think is a fair price for what you just ordered ?”:



“What’s your usual price?”

“Oh, my! I have to think  about it?”

“You’re kidding, right?

Sam’s not kidding, they do have to think about it, his “usual” price is now “your price”, and, when the day is done, the under-payers and the over-payers even out and he’s collecting what he used to get when he had prices…

Of all the various reactions, my personal favorite, and the one that sings  of ethics in business during hard times, is what the woman from Missouri said, when she called to thank Sam for his decision:

“After I saw the story on CNN, I cried…”

Spiritual Quote:

“As a practical step in contributing to a dialogue about development and social transformation that explicitly takes account of spiritual values and perspectives, some 100 influential development organizations, international and government agencies, religious representatives, and academics recently gathered in New Delhi to participate in a colloquium on the theme of Science, Religion and Development. The primary goal of the event was to explore how a unified interaction between scientific methods and religious insights can promote the building of human capacity, particularly in the areas of governance, education, technology and economic activity.”
2001 Jun 11, Universal House of Justice, Overcoming Corruption

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14 thoughts on “Cafe owner thrives with no-pricing policy

  1. Pingback: Cafe owner thrives with no-pricing policy « Financial Blogger

  2. Pingback: Business Ethics Training Embracing Complexity: Business Ethics «

  3. You are one of my favorite sites!

    We face the problem of letting the situation define us, or redefining the situation we are in.

    Hurray for those who trust something more than their fears. A whole new paradigm is sometimes just one thought away.

    Here’s for listening.

  4. Great story. At first the title in the broadcast got my attention and then the story itself. Perhaps, this story indicates that this may actually be a good time for entrepreneurs who choose to get creative and do so for the right reasons. Now all we need is for our current government to demonstrate some of that “ethical” behavior and maybe just maybe our future won’t be as bleak as so many of us predict. Very good post…inspiring and an excellent example of the awesome American spirit that we must fight never to lose.

    • Being on the inside of this story, I can affirm the owner’s never-ending creativity! He kept trying ideas, too–that’s persistence. Then, the ethical quality of the one that got him the customers he needed is pure poetic justice!!

  5. Pingback: An Ethical Business Press Release « Our Evolution

  6. Pingback: Heartwarming story from Alexander M. Zoltai « John Ayo Olaghere

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