The long-awaited Cereal Killer Café opened in Brick Lane on December 10th, run by the Northern Irish twins Alan and Gary Keery. As a foodie always searching for new ways to gain weight, I went to the café’s opening and liked it enough to write a post about it. However, a certain side of the Twittersphere – as well as quite a big chunk of the mainstream media – didn’t feel the same.
A Guardian article wondered if the café could “work in real life” while the Daily Mail called one of the owners an “out-of-touch hipster” for claiming that “the niche cafe, which opened earlier this week, was ‘cheap’.”
What caused the media and social media to cry outrage was the fact that The Cereal Killer sells cereal bowls – which can be found in supermarkets for a much cheaper price – for £3.50 in one of London’s poorest areas. Indeed, according to research published in an article by the Evening Standard, one in two children in the café’s borough, Tower Hamlets, are growing up in poverty.
Among the rants, someone wrote on the Cereal Killer’s Facebook page:
Go and pay over the odds for a bowl of cereal and eat it with your hand-carved wooden spoon. Just try to keep it out of your massive hipster beard. Another new cafe / restaurant / bar in hipster East London that is aimed at giving fuck all to the local community, at a bollocks price..
As a former journalism student, I’m really interested in media/social media controversies and I couldn’t help but notice some elements in the reporting of this issue my lecturers might have told me off about. Now, I’m not a media scholar, but I can’t help but find Channel 4’s reportage a bit strange.
Of course it’s fair enough to have an opinion about the café – be it negative or positive. For instance, this Us VS Th3m article names seven things – like the request for a picture during staff recruitment or the joke about Barbie – the journalists didn’t like about the Cereal Killer. And sure, asking Channel 4’s Symeon Brown to stop the interview wasn’t probably the best PR move the brothers could have pulled off.
However, as a viewer, I didn’t really like the reportage: I couldn’t follow the thread of thought behind it. It started with a slightly off studio cue against hipsters to then move onto the awkward interview. Towards the middle, the reportage basically criticised East London for having a number of quirky cafés – including, horror, one with a 3D printer. It then finished with a piece to camera filmed at a local English breakfast joint, maybe to remind us of the simplicity of a now gone Arcadian past, when we all preferred English breakfast to any other café.
I felt it was a very old-fashioned look at a booming area of London that is now known for its eccentricities. Of course, gentrification is a problem that is actually pushing out the poor from London’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods, as this article on the Telegraph pointed out last summer. As someone who has always hated flat-hunting in London and the housing market’s quality/price ratio, I’m not going to deny that the interest in certain London areas is not exactly making a renter’s life easy. It was absolutely fair enough for journalists to ask the brothers whether the local community of Tower Hamlets will be able to take advantage of the café.
However, I can’t help but think about all the other occasions in which we buy overpriced items in bars, cafés or stalls while we can buy them for much less at the supermarket. Bottled beers in any bar or pub are an example; or, as the tweet below points out, any Starbucks Americano or tea is way pricier than the ones you make at home. And, since ’tis the season to be jolly, I’ve just saved up some cash by buying a whole bottle of mulled wine from Tesco for £3.65 instead of a glass of the same thing in a London Christmas market for £5.
Very good point in here- people moaning about the cereal cafe being a ripoff pay £2 for tea in Starbucks http://t.co/5EvhLyNkP6
— Michael Story (@MWStory) December 11, 2014
Does this mean I’m going to stop buying mulled wine if I’m at a Christmas market because I now know I can pay much less for it in Tesco? Probably not, although my pockets are begging me to. Sometimes we go to bars, cafés or markets and we put up with higher prices just for the sense of community, or simply to do something different.
However, I had the impression that most media outlets interviewing the Keery brothers might have gone to the café with the intention to criticise it. This Us VS Th3m article captures the media’s negative hype: the writer, sent by his colleagues to review the Cereal Killer ready to put his cynical boots on, actually changed his mind after meeting the owners’ parents at the café.
Why do we feel the need to criticise everything without even trying it? Have we become such cynical bastards that we don’t even want a different idea to be tested by the market? Like it or hate it, the Keery brothers came up with an interesting idea. The Cereal Killer Café is definitely not a place you would eat at every morning, but it’s new and different from what I, at least, had seen before. I’m up for checking out every new thing every time I feel like my pockets won’t resent from it too much. So yeah: been there, done that, found it interesting. Probably won’t move in or go there every weekend, but I didn’t find anything wrong in getting there, getting a goodie bag and sitting down to try some cereal I had never eaten anywhere else.
Now the controversy has gone all the way and made up a good number of articles – most in favour of the brothers’ idea. One thing is certain- the media won’t decide whether The Cereal Killer will last or not: the market will. Maybe all the media and social media hype will actually boost its sales. But coming from a small town where the choice of restaurants and things to do is limited, I definitely don’t feel guilty for having tried out a new café.
Pictures: Carolina Are