Cereal Killer Cafe: Belfast brothers open UK's first ever cafe selling nothing but cereal
Stephanie Bell meets Belfast twins Gary and Alan Keery as they get set to open the doors to the UK's first ever dedicated cereal cafe
They are the identical twin brothers from Belfast who have cooked up a global storm with the news that they are to open the UK's first cafe selling nothing but cereal.
The bold move has captured the imagination of TV, newspaper, radio stations and magazines from across America, Africa, Australia and Europe, who have been queuing up to interview Alan and Gary Keery since they announced plans for their unique new eatery in London.
Celebrities, too, have been tweeting about the boys, with former Westlife star Brian McFadden telling his 300,000-plus followers that he can't wait to visit the new cafe for a bowl of Weetabix.
Cereal Killer Cafe will open its doors in Brick Lane, Shoreditch, in the East End of London on December 10, offering customers a choice of 120 cereals from around the world.
The boys, who are 32 years old, are banking on it not just being a breakfast-time wonder but are certain a cereal snack will be in demand all day, even in the dinner hour and up to closing time at 8pm each night.
They have spent the past 15 months working on their unique business venture, securing funding and premises and sourcing cereals from America, France, Australia, South Africa and South Korea.
Customers can customise their cereal with a choice of 13 different milks and 20 toppings. The cafe will also serve 18 flavours of pop tarts, toast, and coffee.
Spread over two floors the vintage-style eatery will be designed to resemble a cereal museum.
The brothers have also spent many hours searching for cereal memorabilia and will be displaying 80 vintage cereal boxes, featuring such iconic images as Pokemon, Bill and Ted, The Addams Family and Cabbage Patch Kids, plus hundreds of pieces of cereal history, from money boxes to skateboards, and bike reflectors to milk bottles.
It hasn't been plain sailing for the twins, who have been undaunted by a series of setbacks, not to mention a few naysayers who predicted their idea was doomed to fail.
But with UK folk spending £1.2bn on breakfast cereals last year - that's nearly 6kg of cereal consumed by each of us - the brothers are certain they are on to a winner.
"Most people eat cereal as a snack," says Gary. "You can have your healthy breakfast cereal in the morning but then if you need something sweet you can go for the more obscure stuff like America's Lucky Charms.
"We did our market research and most people said they would love it."
Gary and Alan have had the full support of their parents, Herbie and Kay, and their older brother Neil (34), who is a stage actor in Brighton.
Their parents will be flying to London to help get the cafe ready for its grand opening with Herbie's expertise as a builder and electrician coming in handy.
The twins both attended Grosvenor High School and then Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, where Gary studied art and design and Alan performing arts.
Gary worked for a number of years in hospitality in the city before moving to London where he was a sales manager with an electronic cigarette company until he resigned in August to devote himself full-time to launching the cafe.
Alan has enjoyed a successful career in retail sales management, working across the UK before also settling in London. He has now also left his job.
What Gary describes as their "light bulb" moment came 15 months ago when they met up for lunch in the city.
"There is so much choice for eating out - pizza, Mexican, Chinese, sushi - and yet all I wanted that day was a bowl of cereal and I couldn't get it," he says.
"The more we thought about it and talked about it, the more we thought it could work as a business. Once we decided to do it, that was it and we just went for it."
Gary enrolled in a business start-up course to learn the basics and then the boys hit their first hurdle when they hired a business adviser.
"He told us it would never work, that no one would come to it and that we couldn't just sell one thing; we would have to sell sandwiches and other food as well," says Gary.
"He just didn't get it at all. It was our first knockback but we were not going to be put off."
The boys then applied for a business loan to Lloyds Bank and were turned down for a similar reason - the bank just wasn't convinced their concept was a goer.
It just made the brothers all the more determined to see their idea through.
"The reasons were personal opinions rather than from people looking at it as a business opportunity," says Gary.
"I think there was a second when we thought 'Are we right?' and then we just thought 'Wise up, they haven't got a clue what they are talking about'.
"Fortune favours the brave; you have to have faith and a positive attitude and we both believed in it and it was what we wanted so nothing was going to put us off."
Undeterred, the twins carried out their own market research, spending two days on the streets of London asking people if they would visit a café with only cereal on the menu.
The results were encouraging, with over 50% saying they definitely would visit the cafe and only 5% revealing they didn't like cereal.
The next hurdle was finding premises. Again because their idea was so unique and, so far, untested anywhere in the country, they found landlords reluctant to rent to them.
"They didn't want to take the chance that after a few months we would be closing down and they would have to find new tenants.
"It was the one thing which for months has held us back. We must have looked at 40 different properties before we found a landlord prepared to lease to us.
"I think everything happens for a reason. Someone told us there was a shop to let in Brick Lane and when we went to see it, it was perfect. It was exactly what we wanted with exposed brick walls and wooden flooring and the vintage style."
Meanwhile, the boys have been busy sourcing their memorabilia, tracking down cereal suppliers and furniture for their cafe.
Their two-bedroomed London flat is currently serving as their stock room and is so packed full of cereal boxes that the boys can barely move.
"We are always looking for new cereals," says Gary. "We wanted as big a variety as we could get and we started with around 50 to 60; after more research we had 70 to 80 varieties and we have now ended up with 120.
"We have gluten-free varieties, cereals for vegans and vegetarians right down to the really unhealthy American rainbow-coloured ones, which are fine once in a while.
"We also have a good range of muesli and granola. We have 13 different types of milk from your blue top, red top and green top to rice milk and almond milk and strawberry, chocolate and banana flavours.
He added: "We have a lot of different toppings, too, from M&Ms to dried fruit and frozen marshmallows.
"It's all starting to come together now and we recently had a delivery of 500 boxes from America which we have had to put in our living room.
"We also have the furniture for the shop in our flat and at the minute we can't see our TV and can just about move from the living room to the kitchen."
For Gary, cereal holds a special kind of nostalgia. He says one of his earliest memories is being brought to the cereal aisle in the supermarket by his mum and invited to choose whichever one he wanted.
"At eight years old it was the biggest decision I had to make in my entire life," he says. "Did I go for the one with the free pencil topper or the bike reflector?
"Mum would have left us staring at all the cereals while she got half an hour's peace to do her shopping."
The twins hope that their shop will take customers back to those comforting days of childhood with its unique vintage feel.
Their cereals will be displayed in old kitchen cupboards and they have found a 1978 bright yellow kitchen which they will use as their counter.
With the trend for having brinner ('breakfast for dinner') sweeping London, the boys believe their cafe couldn't be more current.
A recent survey revealed that in London 44% of people have chosen to have breakfast as their evening meal, with one in 10 people saying they do it regularly.
The city restaurants are making brinner a culinary movement by serving up traditional breakfast fare on their evening menus.
"All day breakfasts are really popular here and a lot of people are eating breakfast for dinner and that's what we will be offering," he says.
With their opening just days away, excitement is building and the boys have been stunned by the worldwide interest in their venture.
They have been contacted by Good Morning America TV show, CNN news and by newspapers from Spain, France, South Africa and Australia, all hoping to cover their opening.
"It's just gone viral, we can't believe it," says Gary. "We knew we had something special but we didn't contemplate this level of interest.
"We've had celebrities tweeting about us and it's all good. We just can't wait now to get in and get it opened to the public."
What your morning bowl says about you...
It’s not called the most important meal of the day for nothing. While the benefits of starting the day fully-fuelled might seem obvious, though, how much thought do you actually put into your choice of breakfast nibble? Here’s our (not-so) scientific guide to what your breakfast choice says about you ....
- Weetabix — given that these delightful wheaty biscuits are one of the UK’s bestselling cereal brands, scoffing a bowl of them daily likely has you marked out as somewhat conventional and the type of person who doesn’t like standing out from the crowd
- Cornflakes — considering they were first invented and marketed as a health food, you’re undoubtedly a traditionalist who likes to play things safe
- Muesli — until about 30 years ago, pouring a bowl of sweepings from a rabbit hutch would have had you pegged out as a yoga-loving health freak. It’s certainly become a more common sight on breakfast bars around the country in the years since — but those old perceptions can be hard to shake off ...
- Special K — you’re female and figure-conscious. And love wearing red.
- All Bran — Undoubtedly there’s an element of someone who puts practicality over pleasure in choosing these
- Porridge — like the land from which it hails, you’re plain in your tastes, and down to earth
- Cereal bars — you long to be healthy (even though most are packed with sugar and/or fat) — but if you can’t even stop for breakfast, maybe you’re spending a little too much time on the go ...
- Coco Pops — you’re certainly fun-loving and like to spoil yourself ... but perhaps it’s time you grew up a bit?
Breakfasts of champions...
Lynda Bryans (50) balances running media production company Take I Take II with her husband, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, lecturing at the Belfast Metropolitan College and being mum to PJ (18) and Christopher (16). She says:
I’m not really a cereal person for a start — porridge would be my cereal if you could call it that. I do the simple ones in the microwave and if I’m organised enough I might add some dry fruit that I’ve chopped up the night before.
I’m not quite human until I’ve had a cup of coffee, though, and breakfast always comes after that any time between seven in the morning and lunchtime.
My absolute favourite thing for breakfast is kedgeree — it sounds very posh and hard to make but it’s not. Mike makes a big batch of it every Christmas or on special occasions like Mother’s Day.”
Emma Fitzpatrick (36) is a DJ with Citybeat and she lives in Belfast. She says:
I’m not actually a big cereal eater. For breakfast I tend to eat really light as I’ll be heading off to the gym beforehand. I usually have yogurt or toast. If I was going to go for a cereal then it would be Shredded Wheat, as it provides slow release energy for me.”
Michael Conlon (22) is an Olympic bronze medal-winning boxer who lives in Belfast. He says:
I do eat breakfast when I have the time in the morning. When I’m in training then I’ll usually have scrambled eggs. If not then I love Crunchy Nut Clusters, I think they’re great.
I also like going to get Lucky Charms from the American sweet shops you find now. They’re really bad for you because they’re full of sugar but they are gorgeous.
I think a cereal cafe will do fantastically in London, but I don’t think it would work as much here. People aren’t in as much of a rush in Belfast as they are in London.”
Jason Clarke (30) is a singer-songwriter who is based in Belfast. He says:
As far as breakfast goes I’ve got fairly simple tastes. My favourite cereal has to be Weetabix, but sometimes it’s Bran Flakes with chopped banana.
It’s because they fill you up more than anything else. I don’t just stick with the cereal, I also have toast and poached eggs too. Or else the old classic of a beat-up egg in a cup with lots of salt and pepper.”
Rebecca McKinney (28) is the co-host of the Cool FM breakfast show each weekday and lives in Belfast. She says:
Since I started on the breakfast show, my co-host Pete Snodden has drummed the importance into me of having a good breakfast. If you don’t, you’re starving by the time the show is over.
I try and have porridge in the morning to be a little healthier. Otherwise I would rather have fruit.
If I’m being bad, though, my chosen cereal is Frosties, but if I’m being good then I’d go for something like Alpen.
I love the idea of a cereal cafe — for something like that to work in Belfast, though, it would need to be somewhere quirky like the Cathedral Quarter.”