Cereal Killer Café protest: A blow against gentification or hitting the wrong target?

On Saturday, protestors took to the streets to attack a cereal-peddling cafe

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The Independent Online


When Cereal Killer Café opened its doors on east London's Brick Lane in December, it was met with a level of anger usually reserved for people who kick dogs or swindle grannies.

Whether it was because it was an insufferably cutesy concept and further proof that hipsters' grip on the area was intensifying, or if it was because the place charged between £2.50 and £4 for a bowl of sugary grain in one of London's poorest areas, it was met with absolute disbelief. One popular blog, Us Vs Th3m, actually called it “the bellend apocalypse” which sounds quite dramatic for a place that dishes out Fruit Loops and plays episodes of Friends. Despite the uproar, it was a hit.

Now Cereal Killer Café is being accused of something other than being terminally irritating: driving gentrification in Shoreditch. On Saturday night, the café was the target of an anti-gentrification protest because nothing says sticking it to The Man like hurling red paint and smashing the windows of a small independent business that trades on childhood nostalgia. Someone even graffitoed the word “scum” on the front. 

The protest was set up by an anarchist group called Class War, which advertised the event on Facebook as the third “Fuck Parade”. Hundreds of masked protesters took to the streets covering their faces with bandanas (and pig masks) and chanting. They explained their motivation on the invitation: “Our communities are being ripped apart – by Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs. Local authorities are coining it in, in a short-sighted race for cash by 'regenerating' social housing. We don't want luxury flats that no one can afford, we want genuinely affordable housing. We don't want pop-up gin bars or brioche buns, we want community.”

But when I visit Cereal Killer Café yesterday morning (it re-opened for business on Sunday) there is a sense of community. Staff happily chat to an older woman about a limited-edition Star Wars cereal box, tourists are taking selfies, and others are having a chat over coffee. 

Gary Keery, 33, who co-owns the cafe with his twin brother, Alan, still can't understand why they were targeted. 

“It's a weird story, isn't it?” he says wearily. “'Hipster café gets targeted for gentrification with people wearing pig masks'. It seems like something out of [TV show] Black Mirror. We're an independent business; we're working-class people from Belfast. I've lived in east London for five years and consider myself a Londoner. Doing this doesn't really get your point across very well, does it? They just look like a bunch of thugs.”

A woman who works in the artisan chocolate shop next door, Dark Sugars Chocolate, claims the events were genuinely “horrific” and the people were “very, very angry”. Whereas across the street at Full Stop, which sells coffee and craft beers, the owner Rob Hurst played down Saturday night.

“It was a bit like a parade. Don't be thinking of the May Day riots or anything like that, it was pretty tame.” He then points out that there are much more obvious points of protest in the vicinity, including a Subway a few doors up, and a new Pret at the end of the street. Another eye-witness account described the protestors as resembling the very hipsters that they were getting wound up about. 

Whatever really unfolded on Saturday night, clearly there is a very real problem with housing in the capital and beyond. You only have to look up to see the multi-billion pound luxury apartment developments seemingly rising on every other road to realise that.

A nearby estate agent, Marsh & Parsons, was also vandalised on Saturday night. It now has a boarded up window, but has re-opened for business. Two bedroom flats for £1.1 million are advertised in their store front. Hitting up a cereal cafe seems like grossly misdirected anger. 

One person, who asked to remain anonymous, says: “Where were the protests when they ploughed down half a street round the corner to make room for a Nobu?” referring to the exclusive restaurant famed for its black cod with miso (at £42, rather pricier than a three-quid bowl of Rice Krispies) that is due to open in early 2016. It's certainly something to chew over.