Old-world charm in Europe? Cafes serv­ing Lucky Charms

Ce­real cafes on the con­ti­nent are tap­ping into a wave of nostal­gia for Amer­i­can break­fast bowls

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - DESTINATION -

BARCELONA, Spain — Trav­el­ers wan­der­ing the streets of Euro­pean cap­i­tals in search of old-world charm might just as likely stum­ble upon a bowl of Lucky Charms.

Cafes serv­ing Amer­i­can break­fast ce­real have ex­ploded in pop­u­lar­ity in Europe as young en­trepreneurs tap into both nostal­gia and nov­elty among cus­tomers who’ll pay be­tween $3 and $9 a bowl. (In U.S. su­per­mar­kets, you can buy en­tire boxes of ce­real for less.)

In the last two years, cafes have opened in Lon­don, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Lis­bon, Ber­lin, Ham­burg, Manch­ester and many other cities. The trend also has a toe­hold in the Mid­dle East.

There’s no sin­gle model for the cafes, but they tend to of­fer at least 100 brands, dozens of fruit and candy top­pings, sweet syrups, and sev­eral kinds of milk, in­clud­ing nondairy and fla­vored va­ri­eties. Many also serve cof­fee, ce­real-fla­vored milk­shakes, soft-serve sun­daes or in­ven­tive takes on Rice Krispies treats, like tiered cakes made from marsh­mal­lowy lay­ers of Fruity Peb­bles, Ap­ple Jacks and other sug­ary ce­re­als. Rare va­ri­eties from for­eign coun­tries also bring in home­sick ex­pats.

A clas­sic bowl with milk is still the stan­dard. But they’re often topped with com­bi­na­tions that go far be­yond what most Amer­i­cans would rec­og­nize as a break­fast ba­nana sliced over Corn Flakes.

At Pop Ce­real Cafe in Lis­bon, one of the most pop­u­lar is a mix of Froot Loops and Rice Krispies with mini marsh­mal­lows and dried straw­ber­ries, topped with straw­berry syrup, a waf­fle cookie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, served with a side of milk in a glass bot­tle.

“Ce­real has ex­isted for what, a hun­dred years?” said one of Pop’s three own­ers, Filipe Vi­cente, 32. “But for a hun­dred years it was ce­real and milk and that was pretty much it. Now this prod­uct has so many va­ri­eties, the com­bi­na­tions are end­less, and we think, what about ice cream or pud­ding? Why not?”

Brightly colored boxes line the shelves at Pop for prac­ti­cal and dec­o­ra­tive pur­poses, and a bunkbed and padded benches let pa­trons doze off for a quick nap. Pop also has hosted events, such as a pa­jama party with a live band called Beliche, which is Por­tuguese for bunkbed.

Vi­cente, who was a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer un­til 2016, said they got the idea from see­ing Ce­real Killer Cafe in Lon­don, which was the first of its kind in Europe. Iden­ti­cal twins from Belfast had opened it in 2014 af­ter see­ing ce­real cafes in the United States and watch­ing the 2007 in­de­pen­dent movie

We have a con­cept of go­ing back to the roots, re­turn­ing to be­ing a kid, back to the ori­gins.”

“Flakes.” Now Ce­real Killer has two more stores in Eng­land as well as branches in Jor­dan, Dubai and Kuwait.

Cafes that had opened in Chicago, Florida and Texas have since mostly closed, but two flashy en­tries opened re­cently in New York, a Kel­logg’s-branded flag­ship near Times Square and one in­side a de­signer sneaker store in Brook­lyn.

De­spite mak­ing in­roads else­where, nowhere has the trend caught on quite like it has in Europe, whose gro­cery stores never stocked the hun­dreds of va­ri­eties that fill en­tire aisles of Amer­i­can su­per­mar­kets.

Ni­co­las Cas­tan, one of three peo- ple be­hind El Flako in Barcelona, said the lack of ex­pe­ri­ence led to some risky com­bi­na­tions af­ter they opened in the spring of 2017.

“Al­most half the peo­ple would make their own but they wouldn’t fin­ish it be­cause they were mak­ing re­ally weird mixes, like Froot Loops with choco­late Krave,” said Cas­tan, who pre­vi­ously worked in pub­lic re­la­tions. “So, we tried to make sure the com­bi­na­tions are bal­anced with both fla­vor and tex­ture.”

On one re­cent af­ter­noon, all of El Flako’s 20 seats were filled, mostly with Span­ish speak­ers who gig­gled at the menu’s fruity, choco­latey, honey or healthy com­bi­na­tions. Lin­ing the white shelves around them were tech­ni­color boxes of Su­gar Smacks, Dis­ney Princess and dozens of oth­ers ce­re­als, as well as pot­ted plants la­beled with first names of fa­mous rock singers like Patti, Jim and Alice. A sound­track of The Doors, Jimi Hen­drix and The Clash pumped out of the speak­ers.

Cas­tan, 29, said the nod to clas­sic rock points to the ori­gins of the boxed-ce­real boom in the 1960s and ’70s. “We have a con­cept of go­ing back to the roots, re­turn­ing to be­ing a kid, back to the ori­gins.”

The com­bi­na­tion of nov­elty and at­mos­phere were enough to bring Maria Roca, a 19-year-old stu­dent from the Uni­ver­sity of Barcelona, back a sec­ond time with a friend, Nuria Amor, 19.

“It’s not cheap, but it’s not re­ally ex­pen­sive,” said Roca, who had a 5.60 euro combo of Cookie Krisp, Choco Krispies, Kinder choco­lates, M&Ms, ba­nanas and choco­late milk. “And it’s some­thing orig­i­nal, so I wanted to show her.” Would they be back?

“Yes, for sure,” said Amor, who had Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch and Ap­ple Jacks with honey, ap­ples and wheat milk. “It was re­ally good, and you wouldn’t do that at home.”

DANIEL LYNCH / EYEVINE

Killer Cafe was founded by iden­ti­cal twins Alan and Gary Keely from Belfast.

PHO­TOS BY PAUL ROGERS / TIMES NEWS­PA­PERS AND DANIEL LYNCH / EYEVINE

the UK’s first spe­cial­ity restau­rant de­voted to break­fast ce­re­als, opens on Brick Lane in Shored­itch, Lon­don.

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