Liberal Heroes of the Week #80: Alan and Gary Keery (aka the ‘Cereal Killer Cafe’ entrepreneurs)

by Stephen Tall on December 13, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - cereal bar

Alan and Gary Keery

Owners of the Cereal Killer Cafe in Shoreditch
Reason: for starting a local business in the face of Channel 4 News’s mockery

It was a close call this week whether I nominated identical twins, the Keerys, as Liberal Heroes — or instead Channel 4 News as a Liberal Villain. Here’s why.

This week, London’s first ‘cereal café’ opened in hipster-central, East London’s Shoreditch. Alan and Gary Keery’s Cereal Killer Cafe serves 120 different varieties of cereal from around the world, which customers can combine with 30 different varieties of milk and 20 different toppings. Prices start from about £2.50.

So what?, you might think. I did: interesting idea; not particularly my kind of thing; wonder if it’ll succeed? Such were my thoughts as I flicked past the Evening Standard report on its opening.

Channel 4 News took a different tack. To them and their reporter Symeon Brown, the Cereal Killer Cafe is a totem of evil capitalism: “the business sells breakfast cereal from £2.50 a bowl, while one in every two children growing up in Tower Hamlets are living in poverty” it preached, as if these two facts were in any way connected. Kudos then to Gary Keery for writing this open letter of complaint:

You obviously don’t understand business if you think I don’t have to put a mark-up on what I sell. It may be the poorest borough in London but let’s not forget canary wharf is also in this borough but I am the one to blame eh? I am from one of the most deprived area in Belfast so me and my family know all about poverty but haven’t had to blame the small business owners in the area for it, I have been taught a great work ethic and have made it this far without blaming small business owners trying to better themselves and make a future for themselves.

I still have to pay over the top rent for my premises and pay the 12 staff I have employed so I either have to make profit or I will be out of business. Maybe if I charged over £3 for a coffee and dodged all the taxes in this country like some cafés – the reporters would leave me alone would they?

Actually it wasn’t Channel 4 News’s wilful refusal to understand the profit motive in business which irritated me: that’s just par for their Guardianista course, an implicit belief the magic money tree somehow can provide society with the public services we need.

What irked me more was their patronising assumption that all poor people in East London really want is a greasy spoon caff, something like EastEnders’ Cindy’s Bridge Street Café, where you can get sausage, egg and chips washed down with weak tea and still get change from a fiver. But a cereal bar? Run by hipsters? In Shoreditch? That all sounds a bit modern and different, doesn’t it? Before you know where we are, people will start wanting lattes and mochas and frappuccinos, when they should be perfectly happy with an instant Nescaf and UHT in a chipped mug.

I still don’t know if the Cereal Killer Cafe will work, but good luck to the Keerys. A liberal market economy needs entrepreneurs willing to stick their necks out (and certainly far more than it needs the media sneering at their efforts).

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.