This food kiosk at the Halifax airport relies on customer honesty to pay

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Mabata Honesty Shop has no staff on site — just a mailbox for cash and card reader for payment

Frances Willick · CBC News · Posted: Jul 20, 2019

The Mabata Honesty shop opened on July 10. It will remain open until at least August. (Robert Short/CBC)

Two Halifax-area entrepreneurs are banking on the honesty of their customers.

Najib Faris and Francesco Stara opened a kiosk at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport last week offering sandwiches, snacks, kombucha and other fare made with local ingredients.

What makes the Mabata Honesty Shop different from other vendors, though, is that the shop has no staff on site.

There is no one waiting to take your cash or process your payment — customers are trusted to take what they want and pay using the tablet and card reader or by dropping cash in a mailbox.

“We took a leap of faith and invested our trust in people,” said Faris.

The owners of the shop say they got the idea from visiting farms in Nova Scotia, where customers simply put their cash in a box and take what they want. (Robert Short/CBC)

The idea sprang from visits that Faris and Stara made to nearby farms to pick up produce for their Bedford restaurant, Mabata Glocal Eatery.

“We were so surprised with the idea — you know, you grab a sack of potatoes and drop in 10 bucks in the bucket and leave. And we’re like, wow, this is amazing.”

The pair believed the honesty system often employed at farm-gate stands could easily be exported to an urban setting. And they thought Halifax was the perfect place to give it a try.

“Nova Scotia has always been known as a place where honesty goes above all and a place where people really still hold onto the true core values of humanity — which is rare these days in the world.”

Faris said his trust in Nova Scotians stems from both his interactions with people and the results of a lost-wallet experiment. That experiment, conducted by Atlantic Credit Unions in December 2017, saw 12 wallets each containing $100 left in public places around Atlantic Canada. Nine of the 12 were returned with the money untouched.

The shop focuses on food made with local ingredients. (Robert Short/CBC)

So far, Faris’s trust has been well placed. The kiosk has seen a 100 per cent payment rate and no theft since it opened on July 10.

Some customers have even left thank-you notes or a gift card.

“It’s that level of honesty that we’re so, so humbled and proud to see in this city,” said Faris.

The Mabata Honesty Shop has received support from Saint Mary’s University’s Entrepreneurship Centre, which provided the kiosk and some consultation free of charge.

Francesco Stara, left, and Najib Faris set up the kiosk at the airport and also run the Mabata Glocal Eatery restaurant in Bedford. (Submitted by Najib Faris)

“We thought it was pretty far out, to be honest,” said Jason Turner, the centre’s senior project manager, of the idea of trusting unsupervised customers to pay for their food.

But the enthusiasm of Faris and Stara was enough to convince the centre’s staff to support the project.

“We thought if they’re pretty keen on it — and they certainly were, you know, kind of came out as guns blazing with this idea — we thought, ‘What the heck? Let’s give it a shot.'”

Honesty shops worldwide

The kiosk at the airport is not the only example of a so-called “honesty shop.”

Faris said he has heard of a grocery store in Japan, a bottled-water kiosk in Dublin and an art shop in Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art that also operate on the honesty system, as well as cafés that sell self-serve coffee on the honour system.

Some honesty shops, however, have not fared so well. 

One such shop located in the lobby of the Manila Police Department’s headquarters — just a few metres away from a security guard — had to be closed after someone repeatedly raided the cash box.

The Mabata Honesty Shop will be open until August, but Faris said he’s in discussions with the airport to maintain a permanent presence there.

He said if the project continues to be successful, he would like to expand it to schools, universities, hospitals and shopping centres.