Can you tell the difference between REALITY, SURREALITY and CEREALITY?
Cereality: Cereality is what you see in this screenshot from the Cereality Cereal Cafe franchise website: a fun and wildly successful restaurant concept that is, as USA Today stated, so absurdly simple it can’t fail. The homepage photo above showcases the concept: the happy, laughing people of Evanston, IL, lined to the door, eager to pay a pajama-clad “Cerealogist” $4 for a bowl of cereal while cartoons play on the flat screen overhead.
Reality: Reality is what I found earlier this week when I visited the Evanston, Il Cereality: just a bracket and hanging wires where the flat screen monitor used to be, the tables, chairs and menuboards all gone off to breakfast-nook heaven, the custom cupboards open and bare, and the brushed aluminum door is locked tight. In Evanston, as in downtown Chicago, the Cereality Cereal Cafe has closed, and Saturday morning has returned to being a once-a-week event.
Surreality: I guess Surreality is trying to envision a world without a single $4 per bowl cereal-only restaurant – and imagining how the residents will survive… having to relearn the primitive practices of cereal pouring and milk-dousing all over again, learning to eat from a bowl, not a disposable cardboard chinese food container. Eating cereal with a plain old spoon, not a hollow one you can suck milk through.
Perhaps Surreality is imagining the highly trained Cerealogists wandering the mean streets of suburban Evanston, the older ones in tattered PJs, slumped in despair, muttering about the time they met King Vitaman, the younger ones mustering the energy to start over, to be retrained and recertified as Sandwich Artists, Starbuck’s baristas or even Popologists at Humdinger Kettle Korn.
The Evanston location was a beauty, highly visible in about as perfect a location as you could find: Hip. Progressive. Upscale. Sidewalks bustle with young affluent professionals with kids, and Northwestern college students with $30K+ tuition and no cooking skills. As I stood before the empty location, the voice of Frank -N-Berry Sinatra crooned: If you can’t make it here, how’ll you make it anywhere…? (like, say, State College, PA or Newark Airport where they also have locations?)
To me, there’s something infinitely sad about a closed business, especially one with energy and cleverness. The problem is that Cereality is a concept in love with its own cleverness. Even in recent interviews and television appearances, the founders recounted the cleverness of their two-year-old press release . They giddily quoted their cute, pithy slogans. They didn’t speak the language of restaurant operators; no talk of average unit volumes, visit frequency or food and labor costs. They did not obsess over cereal quality, or speak passionately about creating innovative, fresh cereals that could introduce an entirely new culinary category for Americans to enjoy on the run. They were enthralled with the pop-culture appeal of the mass-produced, mass-marketed brands. If the countless “eatertainment” concepts that floundered and failed in recent decades taught us anything, it’s that cleverness can get people to try your concept, but it’s your product that will determine your success. If you’re in the foodservice business, your product is food.
Cereality Check Lesson #1: Know what business you are in; its the only way to make success a reality. If you’re in the cleverness business, you better be able to find people who will pay you for being clever. If you’re in the food business, you better provide a great product that will bring people back again and again. Our brave forefathers in the Eatertainment wars fought and died to teach us that lesson. Don’t make their sacrifices be for naught.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CEREALITY CONCEPT? WOULD YOU CONSIDER A CEREAL CAFE FRANCHISE? YOUR COMMENTS ARE APPRECIATED.
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