honoluluadvertiser.com

Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010

'Cereal cafes' hope to find niche in Isles


by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chris Ramos shows some of the 28 different cereals that are stocked in dispensing bins at the Cereal Remix store in Newtown Square, where customers get their choice of toppings to go with their cereals.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

spacer spacer

Is a bowl of Cheerios with Oreo cookie bits, chocolate syrup and milk your idea of a quick meal or snack on the go?
How about Fruity Pebbles with sliced mango and li hing powder? Or Fiber One with granola bar crumbles and yogurt chips?

How about Fruity Pebbles with sliced mango and li hing powder? Or Fiber One with granola bar crumbles and yogurt chips?

If any of that sounds tasty, then a couple of new fast-food establishments on O'ahu want your business.

Two entrepreneurs recently opened so-called "cereal cafes" Cereal Remix in 'Aiea and Scrambled at Windward Mall.

Also referred to as cereal bars, the idea is something a couple of Mainland franchises have attempted to expand nationally in recent years without success, and has been the subject of both praise and ridicule.

Melanie Ramos, who opened Cereal Remix a week ago, believes the concept has good potential for success and expansion locally.

"We love cereal," she said. "We really wanted to bring something different to Hawai'i."

The other local cereal bar operator is Richard Craft Jr., the franchisor behind the chain of Blazin Steaks restaurants known for their $6 steak plates.

Craft said he ran out of attractive locations for more steak restaurants, so he decided to try serving breakfast in a quick-service format that included a cereal bar along with heartier meals including french toast and bacon and eggs.

But the first available space he liked was a small spot at Windward Mall that didn't accommodate cooking. So he concentrated on cereal along with acai bowls, but stuck with the original concept name that suggests eggs are on the menu. Scrambled opened in December.

Some restaurant industry observers have been skeptical that cereal cafes will become the next quick-service food breakthrough like smoothie shops and frozen yogurt franchises.

MAINLAND START

One of the first cereal cafes to emerge on the Mainland was Cereality, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that started with a 200-square-foot kiosk at Arizona State University in 2003.

With financial backing from cereal maker Quaker Foods, Cereality kicked off aggressive plans in 2004 to create a national chain of sit-down cafes offering "all cereal, all day, all ways."

The company touted itself as a mold-breaking concept in foodservice, with pajama-clad "Cereologists" serving customers in stores designed with TVs playing cartoons and cabinets stocked with brand-name and proprietary cereals.

Cereality's initial menu featured 33 cereal choices, three kinds of milk and dozens of fruit, nut and candy toppings. A 2-cup bowl with milk and one topping cost about $3. The cafes also sold boxes of custom cereal combinations as well as cereal-based snack bars and smoothies.

Playful names were given to house creations such as Frost Bites (Frosted Flakes, Frosted Mini Wheats, coconut and malt balls), and S'More Than You Know (Golden Grahams, Coco Puffs, marshmallows and chocolate chips).

Cereality envisioned rolling out cafes at or near universities, in airports, sports arenas, hospitals and office buildings. The company also launched a catering service for meetings and parties.

NOT BOOMING

A Miami-based rival called The Cereal Bowl was launched in 2006, and opened its first cafe furnished with couches and TVs tuned to cartoons. Servers also dressed in pajamas.

However, expansion plans by both companies didn't keep pace with their expectations.

The Cereal Bowl has two cafes open, with three more scheduled to open soon, including one in Qatar, according to the company's Web site.

Cereality in 2007 was sold to a franchisor of multiple restaurant brands, Kahala-Cold Stone Corp., after opening just seven stores, mostly in university areas and airports. Kahala-Cold Stone today has seven locations, six of which are inside Cold Stone Creamery stores.

Jami Thompson, a Kahala-Cold Stone spokeswoman, said the company has strong interest from thousands of entrepreneurs interested in Cereality franchises, but the company has held off on expansion to fine-tune a strategic development plan.

OPINIONS DIVIDED

Some industry observers and restaurant reviewers have hailed the concept as fun and smart, though others have derided the idea and cited the industry's stalled or fizzled expansion that has included other start-ups.

The blog www.FranchisePick.Com in 2008 forecasted the death of the concept, calling it the "silliest, most self-indulgently bad idea to have ever graced the franchise graveyard."

Ramos has heard the criticisms especially the frequent one about being able to buy a whole box of cereal for the price cafes charge for a bowl but said she isn't daunted.

"We're here for the convenience," she said. "And the fun."

NOT JUST CEREAL

To diversify a bit beyond 27 varieties of cereal and three dozen toppings, Cereal Remix sells steel-cut oatmeal bowls, Pop-Tarts, smoothies and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. During lunch, sandwiches, sushi and spam musubi are added menu items.

Ramos said she'd like to expand with more locations if the business does well where it is, in a space formerly occupied by a massage therapy spa at the Newtown Square medical building not far from Pearlridge Center.

Craft, the owner of Scrambled, doesn't plan to open another cereal bar based on his experience so far at his location, a former Subway take-out restaurant at the mall in Kāne'ohe.

"Without the acai bowls, I wouldn't be able to do it," he said. "I'd be bankrupt already."