One of London’s fastest-changing neighborhoods is echoing with the snap, crackle and pop of conflict.
An East End cafe that serves 120 varieties of breakfast cereal — along with 30 kinds of milk — has become a surprising flashpoint for protest in a city increasingly polarized between rich and poor.
The Cereal Killer Cafe has drawn both derision and big crowds since it opened nine months ago, offering a cornucopia of flakes, pops and puffs from about 3 pounds ($4.50) a bowl. On the weekend, it attracted the ire of anti-gentrification protesters, who surrounded the business with flaming torches and scrawled “scum” on its windows as customers sheltered in the basement.
“It is a bit weird,” said Gary Keery, who runs the cafe with his brother, Alan. “I don’t see us as hateful people — but a lot of people seem to.”
Fashionably bearded 33-year-old twins from Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Keery brothers are among the latest wave of migrants to this diverse part of east London. Over the decades European Jews, Bangladeshi Muslims and hipsters from around the world have brought bagel shops and curry restaurants, espresso bars and independent fashion boutiques to Brick Lane and nearby Shoreditch.
It’s that diversity that made the Keery brothers choose the area for their breakfast business.
“There’s a lot of creative things happening,” said Gary Keery. “A cat cafe just opened up around the corner. We just knew that if it was going to work, it would work in Brick Lane.”
That hunch was correct, judging by the crowds of students, tourists and families lining up for a bowl of milk-soaked comfort food in the quirky cafe, where shelves are lined with brightly colored cereal boxes and a portrait of Hannibal Lecter made from Cheerios hangs on one wall.
“It takes people back to their childhood, when cereal was fun,” Gary Keery said.
But not everyone is a fan. On Saturday, anti-poverty protesters targeted the cafe as a symbol of all that’s wrong with London’s development. Footage filmed from inside showed a group, some in pig masks and carrying torches, shouting outside as staff told customers to go downstairs.
Police say one officer was injured by a flying bottle during the protest, organized by militant anarchist group Class War.
Tony Travers, an expert on Britain’s capital city at the London School of Economics, says the cereal storm is “a war by proxy about something much, much bigger”: the squeeze on space in a booming city whose population, already 8.6 million, is growing by 120,000 people a year.