Food has mor­phed from be­ing some­thing that sus­tains us to some­thing that de ines us.

StarMetro Vancouver - - VIEWS - Jes­sica Allen is the dig­i­tal cor­re­spon­dent on CTV’s The So­cial. JES­SICA ALLEN

I can’t think of a sit­u­a­tion in which I would be com­pelled to or­der a bowl of ce­real at a restau­rant. I still have a three­year-old box of Chee­rios that’s yet to need the green bin.

But de­spite my per­sonal dis­taste, ce­real cafés and bars are pop­ping up all over the world.

The idea, bor­rowed per­haps from frozen yogurt chains, is sim­ple: dis­pense child­hood favourites and es­o­teric brands of ce­re­als —Madrid’s The Ce­real Lovers boasts over 150 va­ri­eties — and pro­vide top­pings, like fresh fruit, dried co­conut, milk and milk al­ter­na­tives.

You can imagine the in­te­ri­ors, right? Bright, cheer­ful, and colour­ful, not un­like the image of the bowl of ce­real that is beg­ging to be shared on so­cial me­dia.

It’s a busi­ness strat­egy cap­i­tal­iz­ing on im­pulses that, as a non-mil­len­nial, I don’t have: the de­sire to see some­thing on In­sta­gram — like an ar­ti­sanal ice cream sand­wich or a Cae­sar gar­nished with a grilled shrimp the size of a Buick — and go out of my way to ex­pe­ri­ence and doc­u­ment it.

In fact, when it comes to busi­nesses ex­ploit­ing the lat­est food trends, whether it be a sushi bur­rito or a smoothie bowl, I’ve be­come so con­trar­ian that I’ll go out of my way not to ex­pe­ri­ence them. But will ev­ery­one else, who prob­a­bly likes fun more than I do, bite? Al­though U.S. ce­real sales have dropped $4 bil­lion since 2000, the New York Times re­ported last Fe­bru­ary, “break­fast ce­real is a pow­er­ful en­gine of nos­tal­gia,” par­tic­u­larly for baby boomers.

So if you build a ce­real bar, will the mil­len­ni­als come?

Maybe not. Forty per cent of mil­len­ni­als sur­veyed in 2015 by the global mar­ket re­search com­pany Min­tel ad­mit­ted “ce­real was an in­con­ve­nient break­fast choice be­cause they had to clean up af­ter eat­ing it,” the New York Times said.

But at Silo 13, a “freestyle ce­real bar” that re­cently opened in Toronto, there are no dishes to wash, and there are gluten-free op­tions.

For $10, you can fill up a plas­tic bowl from a se­lec­tion of dozens of ce­re­als, in­clud­ing French, Bri­tish and Amer­i­can im­ports (like Twix, which was dis­con­tin­ued here in 2005). They even have Oreo O’s, only be avail­able in South Korea.

Owner David Cai, 30, told me that he and his wife had the idea to open up Silo 13 af­ter vis­it­ing IKEA. They saw the wall of dis­pensers dish­ing out nuts and bolts and thought it was a great model for serv­ing some­thing.

“We both love ce­real,” he said, and with a lit­tle snap, crackle, and pop, the busi­ness was born.

Silo 13 had their grand open­ing Victoria Day week­end. It went well, es­pe­cially on the Sunday when they “got slammed.”

The fol­low­ing Sunday, how­ever, the place was empty, save for me (it was re­search) and Si­mon (I made him come). I filled my bowl with eight ce­re­als, not one of which looked or sounded healthy, and chose two per cent milk to top it off. The first bite was eu­phoric. I was taken back to the kitchen ta­ble of my child­hood. Was it the Count Choc­ula? Or the Fruity Peb­bles? I can’t be cer­tain be­cause ev­ery other bite tasted like wet sugar.

I don’t think Silo 13 has me in mind as a reg­u­lar cus­tomer. In fact, I won­der if they have reg­u­lar cus­tomers in mind full stop. “We de­signed the place so that it’s In­sta­grammable,” Cai says. “We like to say, ‘If you shoot us, tag us.’”

But what are the chances that once you have that so­cial me­dia post, you’ll go back for a sec­ond? Ce­real may have a long shelf-life, but gim­micks don’t. So I’m not sure a ce­real bar is a sus­tain­able busi­ness model.

Food has mor­phed from be­ing some­thing that sus­tains us to some­thing that de­fines us, usu­ally via so­cial me­dia. And since I for­got to In­sta­gram my freestyle ce­real bowl, I have no idea who I am.


A bowl of ce­real runs about $10 at Silo 13.

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