On 26th September, the Cereal Killer Cafe in Shoreditch was targeted by hundreds of protesters embarking on an anti-gentrification campaign organised by the anarchist group Class War. Staff and customers barricaded the cafe doors and had to shelter downstairs, while the word ‘scum’ was daubed on the shop windows and a smoke bomb thrown inside. While a cafe selling an overload of sugar masquerading as cereal is not everyone’s cup of tea, the attack on its premises was unprecedented and violent – triggering questions of class war, the place of the ‘hipster’ in current economy and whether we need to be paying more attention to the ever-widening social divide.
The key focus of the campaign was the social cleansing and gentrification that is sweeping across London – orchestrated, according to the campaigners, ‘by Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheikhs, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs’. Writing in The Guardian, one protester explained that the attack on the Cereal Killer Cafe was only a symbol of the issues they’re facing rather than a specific target. ‘Many parents in the area suffer the indignity of relying on food banks to feed their children, while the new Shoreditch residents can make a successful business selling children’s cereal for £5 a bowl.’ It is true that the cafe resides in one of the poorest boroughs of Britain, where the proportion of children living beneath the poverty line is almost 50%. It’s understandable, therefore, why the people who are struggling to survive are so angry about yet another vastly overpriced ‘hipster’ establishment.
However, is the attack on the Cereal Killer Cafe really justified in this respect, or have the protesters missed the point about gentrification? The day after the protest, The Londonist published an article entitled ‘6 Things Worth Protesting At More Than The Cereal Killer Cafe’. The article cited One Hyde Park – ‘little more than an empty series of safety deposit boxes masquerading as eye-wateringly expensive apartments’ – and Boris Johnson’s decision to call in the plans for Bishopsgate Goodyard, removing the two local councils from the planning process. And this isn’t just in London – take the luxury Quartermile flats in Edinburgh, which take up valuable amounts of space and often stand empty for the majority of the time, and the controversy surrounding the development plans for the old Royal High School.
The fact is that Alan and Gary Keery are not Russian oligarchs or Texan oil barons – nor, more significantly, are they ‘Eton toffs’ (they grew up in Belfast). The issues that Class War are bringing up are worthy of attention, but it’s arguable whether they can be resolved by targeting bearded twins selling breakfast cereal for a living; as they said themselves after the attack, ‘if you want to talk about gentrification and different classes… You go to the conglomerates and big companies.’
The Cereal Killer Cafe has been sarcastically dubbed ‘the epitome of hipster-dom’, and criticised for their steep prices. But the cafe has enjoyed moderate success, with a second branch opening in Camden just months after launching in Shoreditch – proving that there is a market for their product. Alan Keery has defended their ‘hipster’ status by pointing out that hipsters ‘are driving the flat-white economy, which helps independent shops. And where would we be without independents?’ Since, heaven forbid, true hipsters would never own anything mainstream, they help boost both the independent market and the economy in general in their lust for the next cool thing. This in turn has contributed to the vast influx of independent coffee shops, vintage shops, bars, pubs and clubs that Edinburgh in particular currently celebrates.
So, to summarise: yes, there are issues of gentrification and social divide that need to be addressed, but, whether or not attacking hipsters is the most effective way of doing it, the attack on the Cereal Killer Café reflects a wider social dissatisfaction that perhaps has more to do with government officials and the super-rich.