The Cereal Experiment

A few weeks ago, while helping Gabe move up to New York, we hobbled into a Panera Bread restaurant for lunch. Over a meal of $10 deli sandwiches, we got into one of those entrepreneurial brainstorming discussions, where you talk about some weird commercial phenomenon and figure out how you can exploit it. In this case, it was the yuppization of blue-collar food.

Specifically, we were talking about how restaurants like PF Chang’s try to capture the experience of eating ordinary takeout Chinese food in a Pottery Barn setting. Likewise, the Cheesecake Factory is really nothing more than a pimped out diner. In Philly we have Jones, a Steven Starr restaurant that is basically like getting KFC in an ironic, hyper-cool Brady Bunch lounge. And isn’t the food at Maggiano’s an awful lot like your typical Little Italy restaurant, minus the opera singin’ waiters? The thing about all these places is that they’ve taken staple comfort foods and it with mood lighting, part-time actress waiters, hard wood, cloth napkins, and jazzy mix tapes.

So, Gabe and I wondered, what boring, but essential, food could we repackage into a postmodern ultra-hip restaurant? Pizza’s already been done. Indian is just a little too unusual. Rice is just–well, rice. Way too postmodern (those who’ve heard the story of “divorced girl” will know what I’m talkin’ about). Ultimately, we couldn’t come up with anything, and decided to spend the rest of the drive debating the size of John Kerry’s bladder.

As it turns out, there was an untapped comfort food, but we never came close. You gotta think supermarket. Think cereal. CEREAL!

Imagine a “Seinfeld-esque” kitchen setting featuring homey kitchen cabinets stocked with familiar cereals. Right there you’ve got the design concept for Cereality, the new franchise that’s trying to do for cereal what Taco Bell did for Chihuahuas. There’s already a franchise in the works, set to open in early November. Most remarkable, it’s going to be right in the heart of Penn’s campus, next to the bookstore.

The company’s slogan is “all cereal, all day, all ways.” The idea of custom-blending name-brand and specialty cereals, as well as hot and cold varieties, seems downright brilliant. I’m not sure I agree with the company’s press release, which touts cereal eating as a “habitual and highly personal” habit, with late-night compulsive tendencies. But no matter, this idea is friggin’ brilliant anyway.

I gave up cereal long ago, figuring that it was devoid of nutrients and protein. But hearing about Cereality’s wacky concept, I’ll be one of the first to line up at the 1,500-square-foot cafe at 36th and Walnut.

I’ll be there hawking my smashed sandwiches and homemade donuts, of course.