In only the most recent food fad to hit the streets of London and national headlines, bearded twin brothers Gary and Alan Keery reportedly had the epiphany to open up a cereal cafe one hungover morning whilst craving a mouth-clearing and stomach settling bowl of their favorite sugar-infused processed carbohydrate with lashings of the chilled excretions of cows' udders.
Following a failed attempt to crowdsource £60,000 on Indiegogo, the duo have been riding a wave of media attention after successfully securing a business loan for the venture. Upon opening the shop in an old video rental store on London's famous Brick Lane, press coverage has reached something of a frenzy, with some actual consumers also managing to squeeze in on the fray.
With press from far and wide initially spellbound by the novelty of an establishment offering over 100 different varieties of global cereal brands, 12 kinds of milk and 20 toppings (only a small number taking aim at the sugar content and nutritional value of the so called "cereal cocktails" on offer) things turned a little sour towards the end of the week when a news reporter from UK TV's Channel 4 got up from a table with camera in tow to launch awkward questions at one of the twins about their £3.20 ($5) price tag for a bowl of cereal in an area of the city where many residents live in deprivation.
And so it was that Britain's first cereal theme cafe became the (yet another) release valve for rising tensions around issues of gentrification and austerity, with much hipster hatred being vented as the interview went viral. Having not handled the interrogation well in the heat of the moment (Reporter: "Do you think local people will be able to afford £3.20 cereal?" Keery: "If they're poor, probably not then. Can we stop this interview because I don't like the questions you're asking me?") Gary later hit back in an (fairly reasonable) open letter to the TV channel criticizing the reporter for blaming him for issues such as high property prices and local poverty, especially with the likes of Starbucks and the big banks only a stones throw away. As the frothing thought-piece storm finally subsides, several commentators are noting; cereal cafes and their likes past and yet-to-come are a symptom of gentrification, not the cause.
Whilst likely to be center of controversy for some time to come (and profit nicely from it probably), the Cereal Killer is in some ways unavoidably charming—and other critics have written eloquent and entertainingly about the blatant nostalgia and "infantalisation" at play here ("Will the waitstaff of the future be forced to pay the rent by singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and wet-wiping the bottoms of eager East Londoners?").
I wonder, however, whether the cafe's warm and fuzzy allure may have another dimension—are we perhaps bidding a fond farewell to a packaged food culture that may not be long for this world? The cafe's very existence, the counter-cultural irony and it's retro presentation—an impressive array of vintage memorabilia on display alongside the library shelves of weird and wonderful boxes—are indeed a nostalgic look back but is it also in some way a touching tribute (dare I say shrine?) to a pleasure we know must move on from—as an adult yes, but also as as society?
The cereal industry globally is in growing turmoil with sales plummeting as evidence mounts on the negative effects on health such nutritionally barren "foods" have and public food behavior shifts. When seen framed on an exposed brickwork wall in the East End of London, the idea of a sugary cereals marketed to children with talking animals certainly does seem like something from a bi-gone era.
For any nostalgic cereal fans out there who may want to soak up more of this whilst it still last—Cereal Killer Cafe are collecting shots of their growing collection of cereal boxes and memorabilia on their Instagram account