Successful ‘honesty store’ selling cold brew coffee in Makati shows there’s hope for humanity

Images: Justin Guce
Images: Justin Guce

A high school biology teacher who set up an honesty store to sell cold brew coffee is making the rounds on social media, with his success showing people that there is hope for humanity after all.

Justin Ray Guce teaches at the Philippine Science High School, a specialized public high school with a rigorous math and science curriculum for students that can pass its competitive entrance exam.

READ: Retired teacher wins hearts for giving free lessons to kids on the street

But besides teaching, Guce has another passion that he’s turned into a side hustle — local coffee.

Guce began by selling local barako (liberica) beans or grounds from Batangas in 2016 as a way to offset his and his wife’s travel expenses as they were having their furniture built by woodworkers from that province.

In addition to selling grounds and beans, Guce thought of adding cold brew to his repertoire after his initial roster of customers began clamoring for ready-to-drink beverages and he became intrigued by its low-maintenance production process. A colleague gave him a cold brew recipe and Guce worked on it, fine-tuning its formulation until he achieved a flavor that he enjoyed.

When the pandemic struck and his wife became busy with their second child, Guce decided to grow the occasional sales into a more consistent source of income that would help him pay for therapy for his first child, who is on the autism spectrum.

“I thought of having a passive form of income where I wouldn’t need to pay or supervise an employee since I was working and my wife was busy with our second child,” Guce told Coconuts.

Guce said that he was inspired by a famous honesty store in the northern province of Batanes. It’s a corner store and coffee shop that is not manned by any employee — customers are greeted by a price list as well as a dropbox for payment.

The money jar and dropbox for payment. Images: Justin Guce

Guce started his first honesty store at their condominium in Taguig City, where it was warmly received by his neighbors. “I would just place an ice chest with the cold brew on my doorstep along with drip coffee, “ he shared. He sells straight black cold brew for PHP25 (US$0.46), and cold brew with milk for PHP35 (US$0.64) using local Batangas beans. He makes about 15 gallons of cold brew each day, which amounts to 45 to 50 bottles. He likely sells the cheapest cold brew in the Metro, he says. “I wanted to take away the stigma that good coffee is only for rich people.”

After it became a hit in their condominium complex, Guce decided to work on another honesty store concept in the neighborhood where he grew up in Makati City.

“At the condo, I felt more at ease since there weren’t a lot of passersby, unlike in my neighborhood in Makati,” he shared. But so far, he hasn’t encountered any huge losses from the store he set up there.

“There was one instance when my neighbor alerted me while I was at work that a group of kids was hanging around the dropbox. So I took the money in and left some loose change. I was able to talk to the kids and told them that if they needed anything, they can just ask for money or food from me,” he said.

“I scared them a little bit but took them through the process. As a teacher, my approach can’t seem punitive to the kids,” he added.

Aside from that incident, Guce shared that the daily earnings check out against the bottles sold — and while the business hasn’t scaled up yet, it’s doing well enough to support some of his family’s daily needs.

While there are skeptics who remain doubtful about any honesty store’s sustainability, Guce likes to be an optimist — and even thinks that more honesty store concepts could become successful across the metro or the country. “I think, just like any other scheme, there will always be birth pains, so it will likely be slow at first. But I believe it’s possible for the concept to thrive. I had invited my friends to sell cold brew and do an honesty store concept also but they’re still hesitant. What’s important is that you have a location and someone to set it up in the morning, and then return in the afternoon to dismantle it.”

Some may call it naivete, but Guce’s outlook is reflective of his optimism and bootstrapping mentality. “I’ve never lost hope in the Philippines, even though I’ve had a lot of relatives tell me to try my luck abroad, I believe that my family can afford a good life here.”

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