10 Dec 2014

‘Stop this interview’ – cereal café dodges poverty question

London’s newest novelty cafe, Cereal Killer, opens its doors today in Brick Lane – but is £3 for a bowl of cereal in one of London’s poorest boroughs excluding the local community?

The Cereal Killer cafe will sell 120 different varieties of cereal with 13 types of milk. A small bowl costs £2.50, with a range of toppings available such as banana or chocolate sprinkles.

Then there are the “cocktails” – the Chocopotomus features Coco Pops and Krave served with chocolate milk and a Kinder Happy Hippo. The Double Rainbow is Trix, Fruity Pebbles and freeze-dried marshmallows served with strawberry milk.

But situated just off Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets the business sells breakfast cereal from £2.50 a bowl, while one in every two children growing up in Tower Hamlets are living in poverty.

The rate of child poverty in the area has now reached 49 per cent – a rise from 42 per cent last year, the owners of Cereal Killer were surprised to learn.

But how long can novelty cafes stay in business? They have long been a feature in countries like Japan, but now a new wave is sweeping across London (mostly in the east), though the rest of Britain seems as yet untouched.

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Earlier this year, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium opened its doors in Shoreditch. Describing itself as a place where customers can “kick back and relax with a cup of tea and spend time in the soothing company of our purring feline friends”, customers can stroke a variety of rescue cats while they enjoy drinks and snacks.

Close by, in Old Street, Ziferblat opened at the end of 2013. Its unique selling point is that everything is free inside, except for the time you spend there – 5p a minute (or “3p for Supercentenarian Members”). And up the road, in Haggerston there’s Draughts, a board game cafe where you can play more than 500 board games, which opened in November this year.

Across town in Brixton, there’s the Burnt Toast Cafe, which opened in 2011 and features toasters on every table, charging £2.50 for four different slices of bread, plus sides.

There are novelty restaurants too: Dans Le Noir in Clerkenwell has been going since 2006, offering the chance to eat and drink in total darkness. It might be more the novelty than the food that keeps customers coming back – a review by Jay Rayner when the restaurant opened described a “slimy, bitter and cloying” dish of “sludgy gnocchi swamped by a blue cheese and whisky dressing with, on the side, a scoop of nasty floral lavender ice cream, which tasted like the inside of an old lady’s sock drawer”.

In Soho, there is Garlic and Shots, a Swedish bar offering food that’s heavy on the garlic and, as the name suggests, 101 different flavours of vodka shots.

If something becomes enough of a cult, people will come from miles away for the experience. Clare Rayner, retail specialist

Not all previous novelty cafes have survived though. Oxygen Bar in Soho appears to have tried to cash in on the late 90s, early 00s craze for bars where you can inhale pure oxygen while you drink. One review from 2010 says “you think its a fancy cool oxygen bar with masks and tubes but the oxygen is from a can that you inhale and pass around. No thanks, I’ll pass.”

Coffee, Cake and Kink, which closed in 2008, was a cafe in Covent Garden with a difference – the chance to browse a variety of erotica, ranging from the tasteful to the more hardcore, with your coffee and cake. Now offering its wares online, the social enterprise say it is currently looking for new premises in central London.

So what chance do these new cafes have? For retail specialist Clare Rayner (no relation to Jay), success or failure depends on two things: location and whether there are enough people around to attract loyal, repeat customers.

“Activity-based cafes, for board game players or cat lovers for example, become almost like a club where people who share a common interest can meet up. I know there are cafes specialising in crochet and knitting, which has recently been given a big boost by Kirsty Allsop.”

She is a little more unsure about Cereal Killer’s chances, wondering whether it might be in too much of a niche to survive for long. “But on the other hand, there’s milage in being off the wall. Dans Le Noir is still going because people don’t usually get the chance to eat in total darkness.

“If something becomes enough of a cult, people will come from miles away for the experience.”