Believe it or not, there’s a coffeeshop in Raleigh that’s been offering free Wi-Fi to customers for years–and it doesn’t serve lattes.

At Finch’s Restaurant, near Peace College, devoted regulars come in the morning and stay all afternoon. They eat boiled ham sandwiches, pickled beets and hotcakes. And they jump on their laptops from the old-fashioned lunch counter. A corrugated metal carport dating back to the days of the drive-in shades the front windows. There are layers of family photos and newspaper clippings taped to the walls.

David Liu first set up computers at his father and stepmother’s restaurant back in 1997. The beige boxes are still there, keyboards resting beside saltshakers and bowls of coffee creamer. The idea was to attract younger customers in addition to the loyal crew that’s come to Finch’s for decades.

As a computer consultant, Liu was able to build the machines himself, spending about $4,000 on hardware. “The Wi-Fi part is actually pretty easy,” he says, “just basically buying a router and installing it, probably less than $100, maybe $200 with all the network cards I had to buy.” Monthly upkeep on the system is no more than the cost of DSL service.

“It was no big deal,” he says.

That’s part of why Liu doesn’t believe in charging customers for access. “I don’t agree with that,” he says. “If you have a restaurant, I don’t know how you can charge for something–if the customers are going to sit down at the table and use it, you might as well include it, as well.

“The Internet is a free medium in itself,” Liu says, “so the whole appeal of it is to be free.”

If you want to kick in for it, which the regulars do, a plastic container at the cash register counter that says “Tips to cover the cost of Internet access” sits next to the York peppermint patties.