Cereal Killers’ frosty reception shows independent shops aren’t immune from backlash

Posted on Dec 18th, 2015 | News and opinion

When Shoreditch’s Cereal Killer café opened to the absolute disgust of many, I was pretty confused. I love cereal- it’s tasty, convenient and versatile. You can eat it at any time of the day and it requires minimal washing up. Why would anyone would begrudge a couple of young entrepreneurs starting a business which specialises in rare variations of grains from all over the world?

According to one Guardian article commenter, the business owners, a pair of twins from Belfast, are: “a pretentious pair of silver spooned hipsters who haven’t worked a proper day in their life but believe they are better that [sic] everyone else”. Clearly this person isn’t aware that starting any remotely successful business commands a little more than just the one proper day of work, as any of our clients will likely tell you.

“Charging £4 for a bowl of cereal when people in the city are starving is gratuitous in the extreme”, the complainant continued, despite regularly priced cereal being available in countless other local outlets, including, presumably, the newsagent literally just across the street.

Inaccurate hysteria aside, Cereal Killer charges £2.50 for a small bowl, £3 for a medium and £3.50 for a large bowl of anything on the menu. Not the wisest choice of eatery if you’re in dire need of a cheap meal, and of course an extortionate amount for say, a standard, bland bowl of cornflakes. But what about niche, exotic treats such as say, Spongebob Squarepants cereal, imported all the way from the States?

Any enterprise that sells food or drink marks it up, and if the markup is deemed too high, then of course the public can vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere.

Alan Keery owns the cafe alongside his brother Gary. He told the Telegraph: “I think some people think we’re just middle class white boys who have used mummy and daddy’s money to open a business, but that’s not the case. We’ve worked hard and saved for years to achieve our dream… We put absolutely everything on the line to open this cafe.”

A flakey argument

Last month around 200 people, some donning pig masks, carrying flaming torches and pitchforks, descended on the café to take a stand, they claimed, against “communities being ripped apart — by Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheikhs, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own homegrown Eton toffs … We don’t want pop-up gin bars, we want community.”

Paint bombs were thrown at the building and ‘SCUM’ was painted on the walls of the café whilst customers (including terrified children) were trapped inside. Staff and customers barricaded the doors but at one point a smoke bomb was reportedly thrown inside.

Gary Keery said: “It’s senseless violence, isn’t it? We’ve had some letters through the letterbox saying ‘die hipsters’ and stuff but nothing to this extreme. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The hatred for so-called ‘hipsters’ is an incredibly nauseating trend. Sure, pretentiousness can be pretty grating, but it’s a bit baffling as to why so many fully grown adults are so concerned and angry about what other adults like to do, wear or eat. Juvenile stereotyping notwithstanding though, the very real issue isn’t about trendy beards or man-buns. It’s about gentrification – the economic pushing out of poorer residents that occurs when more affluent people move into an area.


Of course, there are major benefits to an area being regenerated, such as job creation and a boost to local economy. But a sudden increase in the town’s desirability to wealthier folks can mean locals get priced out of living in the area once their living costs start to soar. If wealthy outsiders planning to transform the area can be stopped in their tracks, then that’s a win for anti-gentrification protesters.

The New Era estate is a great example of such displacement occurring just ten minutes from the cafe in nearby Hoxton. Traditionally a hub for affordable housing, the estate was set to be sold to large American firm Westbrook Partners last year.

As the area had risen in popularity amongst wealthier people over recent years, Westbrook planned to triple the rents, leaving the residents with no choice but to leave. Fortunately for them, their protests caught the attention of the media, (who became much more interested in the story once Russell Brand turned up to show his support) and with the help of a housing charity, the existing tenants were able to save their homes.

But this Cinderella story is a rare occurrence, and without the backing of a major celebrity, activists feel they have to take other measures to bring due attention to this important issue. But is targeting a small business really the answer, especially when there are upmarket chain stores and estate agents nearby?

Corn-troversy creates cash

Ian Bone, founder of Class War, the protest’s organisers, told The Guardian:

“We’d be mad to go for Pret a Manger and Foxtons. A broken window at Foxtons isn’t going to get any publicity at all, whereas we’ve seen what happens with independent shops. We’d be stupid not to. We had a riot virtually every night outside 1 Commercial Street, and it doesn’t get a dicky bird. We wouldn’t have got any publicity if it hadn’t been for the cereal cafe.”

Rationally speaking, whilst the scenes were intimidating, only one protester out of the hundreds was arrested (on suspicion of criminal damage). Without actually being there to experience the disturbance first-hand, one could surmise that the level of unease may have been slightly exaggerated by all parties.

Class War benefitted from the exposure, the café got even more publicity, and traffic on news websites went wild as people on all ends of the political spectrum (and those apoliticals who just like cereal) poured onto the pages to hear about the chaos. You’d have been hard pressed to come up with a better publicity stunt.

Even the Class War founder acknowledged this: “I give those two brothers their credit. They’ve milked this brilliantly. They’ve run a masterful campaign. I salute them for that”, and Alan Keery admitted in the Evening Standard: “An attack on a bank would be another attack on a bank but they knew if they went for us they would get media attention. It’s clever of them.”

As much as the protesters clearly had a point about gaining publicity, one has to wonder where they would draw the line with regards to attacking an innocent party for the sake of bringing attention to a cause. Sure, a short-term point is made, but the misplaced attacks reflect so badly on activists that anyone sharing their point of view inevitably ends up being portrayed as reckless and unreasonable.

As we’ve seen with the recent Conservative Party conference protests, throwing an egg at a Tory delegate or spitting at MPs might grab more headlines, but if the headlines are ‘Why do Lefties think it’s OK to spit at people’ – was it worth it? Is this really the best way to present a relatable message in a manner that’s going to gain sympathy and affirmative action?

Whether you like the twins or not, their story is an inspiring one. It takes a lot of courage and effort to get a business off the ground, let alone one as niche as theirs. With that said, if the café wants to avoid the ire of protesters, perhaps they could consider selling a lower priced tier of the less exciting brands such as plain Corn Flakes, Bran Flakes or Shredded Wheat, so then at least everyone in the area can afford to visit?

I’d be interested to hear from small business owners whether Cereal Killer could – or even should – do more to integrate with their community. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo by Dan Brickley

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Written by Tom West

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