Why London's Cereal Killer Cafe Inspired A Violent Protest

Photo: Courtesy Erin Donnelly.
It's usually easy to pick out Cereal Killer Cafe, famed for its stash of Lucky Charms and other rare-to-the-U.K. breakfast treats, by the queue snaking down Brick Lane. Now, it's easy to pick out because of big, angry splotches of red paint marking its windows. Inside, a group of young women excitedly whisper "this is the place!" as they file in. After pausing to snap a few selfies of the '80s bric-a-brac (the retro decor is an Instagrammer's dream), they work up the nerve to ask the guy behind the counter about what happened Saturday night — when hundreds of anti-gentrification protesters (identifying themselves as Class War's Fuck Parade) stormed the shop, throwing paint and cereal as about a dozen customers, including children, cowered inside.

According to The Guardian, the protesters wrote "scum" on the shop window, lit an effigy of a police officer on fire, carried pigs' heads, and threw a smoke bomb. One police officer was injured by a flying bottle, and a protester was arrested.

What was the cause of the ire? The cafe, owned by twins Gary and Alan Keery, has been a thorn in the anti-gentrification movement's side ever since a Channel 4 reporter questioned the concept of selling cereal at a few pounds per bowl in an impoverished area. Until now, the flak didn't seem to deter sales. Since opening on Brick Lane last year, the cafe is seeing queues usually reserved for the "beigel" shop further down the road. The Keerys opened a second location, in Camden, in May, which Gary Keery says hasn't had any problems. "It's just Brick Lane," he told us in an interview today.

Protesters, however, see it differently.

"The petty vandalism that occurred pales in comparison to the brutality of the gentrification that is destroying the lives and demolishing the homes of some of London’s most vulnerable people," a protester named Will Harvey said in an op-ed in today's Guardian. He continued:

Some 49% of the children in the borough live below the poverty line. Property developers and private landlords are making millions forcing these children and families out of their homes, often through violent evictions, and they are regularly moved into inadequate temporary accommodation and sometimes onto the streets. Many parents in the area suffer the indignity of relying on food banks to feed their children while the new Shoreditch residents can make a successful business selling children’s cereal for £5 a bowl.

Some people just get annoyed by the fact that we've got beards and we're selling cereal

That reasoning doesn't sit well with Keery.

"There are a lot of things that I can't afford, but I don't go round protesting about it," he told Refinery29. "We mark up our food the same way anyone else does. It's not a valid argument to say 'you sell food when people are starving'... Everybody does. There's a Pret that's opened up the road, which is owned by McDonald's, and they weren't touched. That is gentrification. We are not."

"Some people just get annoyed by the fact that we've got beards and we're selling cereal," he said, referring to the cafe's hipster reputation. "It's been reported that we sell cornflakes for £5. We don't sell cornflakes for £5. We never sell cornflakes. What we sell are the imported cereals...they are expensive...we have taxes to pay, staff to pay. We have a lot of overhead, so we have to mark our products up accordingly."

Keery added that the events of Saturday were surreal. "We got a phone call...Saturday night at 8 p.m., saying there was a mob of about 200 people outside with pigs' heads and brandishing torches and throwing paint," the businessman recalled. "Imagine getting that on a Saturday night. That can't be real, [we thought], you're exaggerating."

"We came straight down," he continued, "but we didn't come out front. We thought if we turned up, with our beards, they'd lynch us. We got the staff out to a safe place. Then, I saw the footage and thought, That is unbelievable. That is something from, like, Black Mirror. It's just something weird. Like, does that actually happen?"

Keery said that other businesses in the area have offered food, cleaning supplies, and other forms of support, while Mayor Boris Johnson's office has also been in touch. Keery feels that Channel 4 has "a lot to answer for" for its role in casting the brothers as symbols of gentrification: "They're the only news station that hasn't contacted us [after the attack]," he explained. He confirmed that the riot is now a police matter.

Protesters have announced that the Jack the Ripper Museum will be the next target, but Keery, for one, doesn't feel threatened. "We own this place as much as they [the protesters] do," he says. "We are staying. We're going absolutely nowhere."

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