The hip and trendy Belfast brothers who wouldn’t cower


Drum roll please...

My Northern Ireland “people of the year” award goes to Belfast-born brothers Gary and Alan Keely.

The London-based twins are the entrepreneurs behind the recently opened Cereal Killer Café on London’s Brick Lane.

As you might have guessed from the name, the café serves bowls of cereal: over 120 varieties, many specially imported from around the world.

To accompany your cereal the brothers offer a wide range of milks and toppings. So wide is the variety that should you eat a bowl a day from the Cereal Killer Café, it would take you nearly 80 years to work your way through every combination of cereal, milk and topping available.

If cereal is not your thing, then other snacks are available.

Like most young businesspeople the brothers have put everything they have into getting their venture off the ground, securing finance, equipping and decorating their premises, hiring staff and sourcing supplies.

When Cereal Killer Café first opened it attracted a bit of national press interest and the odd negative comment, due to the brothers being “hipsters”, a subculture associated with ostentatious beards, eccentric trousers and quirky business ideas.

As subcultures go, hipsters are generally mild mannered and reasonably intelligent, they are not the sort of people who you would object to having as neighbours, unless you are a ‘Guardian’ reading lefty sort.

The liberal left have taken a dislike to hipsters because they have a habit of moving into rough urban neighbourhoods and improving them. Hipsters also annoy lefties through their tendency to be independently minded and self-sufficient.

Cereal Killer Café is located in Tower Hamlets, a modern day rotten borough ruled by the Labour Party and Islamic fundamentalists.

In the lexicon of the left, it is an area of deprivation, which is how they want it to stay so that the local political class can maintain their power and influence through controlling the flows of public spending and welfare. (Does this sound familiar?)

While the Keely brothers might have expected a bit of anti-hipster flack, what they did not bargain for was a Channel 4 film crew arriving unannounced with a reporter pushing jibes about property prices and poverty in the area.

Instead of showing an interest in the innovation and effort that had gone into getting the café started, or reporting on its obvious popularity, Channel 4 journalist Symeon Brown chose to challenge Gary Keely, implying that high house prices and low incomes were somehow the fault of the Belfast boys and that the brothers should be apologetic rather than proud for creating 12 new jobs.

It was hard to see how the questions could be answered without either self-abasement or appearing exploitative.

Instead of falling into the trap, Gary, in a superb act of causal indifference, sent the journalist packing and got on with doing something more worthwhile.

The brothers’ sin, in the eyes of Channel 4, was to charge £3.20 for a bowl of cereal.

£3.20 is not great value compared to buying a packet of generic cornflakes and a carton of milk to eat in your own kitchen, but it is not an unreasonable price when you consider the business overheads and the convenience of having someone serve you with your choice of imported munchies and clear up afterwards.

In a coup de grace Gary sent Channel 4 a letter in which he wrote: “I am from one of the most deprived areas in Belfast, so me and my family know all about poverty, but haven’t had to blame the small business owners in the area for it.

“I have been taught a great work ethic and have made it this far without blaming small business owners trying to better themselves and make a future for themselves.”

While the Keely brothers were getting it in the neck for punting £3.20 bowls of fancy cereal, on the other side of London a watering hole called Searcys Bar in St Pancras train station was boasting about its £60-a-glass mulled wine, which is not quite as pricy as the £750 Mai Tai cocktail that the Merchant Hotel in Belfast used to shout about.

Now if people wish to pay extortionate prices for a drink, well that is their choice, but it is worth remembering that such decadent extravagances are usually the prelude to an economic crash.

So all-in-all the spectacle of a national broadcaster picking on a couple of young men opening a small café looks like missing the real story in a big way.