When Megan Sullivan woke up late Sunday before a night of studying, she decided the first meal of her day should be breakfast — even though it would be 6 p.m. before she had it.
Luckily, her favorite study haunt had just what she wanted: a muffin, a chai and a big bowl of Cheerios with bananas and whole milk.
Ever since it opened in late August, the cereal bar at Java Break, 17 E. Seventh St., has been serving up bowls of every possible combination — Cap’n Crunch, Grape-nuts, Oreo cookies and chocolate milk, anyone? — to every possible type of customer, says owner Derek Hogan.
Little kids come in on Saturday mornings eager to order sugary cereal with chocolate chips on top. Teenagers come in after dinner and split a bowl for a dessert that puts the ice cream sundae to shame. College kids come in to the 24-hour joint after the bars close at 2 a.m. and again for all-night study marathons like the one for which Sullivan was gearing up.
“Java Break had turned 14 years old and I wanted to give it kind of a face-lift and do something fun with it,” Hogan says. “And it seemed like a real obvious fit for what we were doing anyway.”
Hogan cut open a spot in the wall for a bar, came up with a list of more than 30 cereals, 20-plus toppings and assorted milks and added a small TV for classic cartoons.
“I came back and they had this awesomely cute retro cereal bar,” Sullivan says of returning to Java Break to study after a summer off from her life as a religious studies major at Kansas University. She’s used it several times, getting the same thing — Cheerios, bananas and whole milk — each time.
“This is like a childhood memory-type cereal,” Sullivan says, explaining that she likes her bowls to be “plain Jane.”
The base bowl for plain Janes like Sullivan sells for $2.50 and consists of two cereals and a topping with plain whole milk. Manager Sarina Geist says she has sold bowls upward of $5, but that’s a rarity.
“I guess everyone has grown up eating cereal — Saturday mornings in front of cartoons. And it was a simple thing that we could add to the store that I could keep the price cheap for college students, since that’s a large portion of my customer base, the college students, during this time of year,” Hogan says. “And it’s just kind of fun. You wouldn’t, necessarily, at your house take two or three types of cereal, mix them together and have access to 25 different toppings and different types of milks. What you can actually do with your bowl of cereal is probably quite a bit more than what you could do at your house because you wouldn’t have all the different materials.”
The idea isn’t a new one, but it’s new to Lawrence. A chain called Cereality has opened similar cereal bars across the country and others have tried the concept as well. But Hogan says it’s not a case of if you build it, cereal lovers will come. He did his research and says he’s glad the cereal bar is just part of his business.
“Several of them, most of them have gone out of business, I guess their main focus was on cereal, which Java Break, obviously, it’s a little addition to what we were already doing,” Hogan says. “But I researched what was popular with cereals, I talked to a lot of kids about what their favorite cereals were before I came up with my final selection and different toppings. And most of them are really basic toppings that most people have had on cereal forever.”
The most popular cereal?
“I was really surprised by how popular Reese’s Puffs were,” Hogan says. “It’s by far the most popular cereal right now with 20-year-olds, apparently. It must have been popular when they were kids or something.”
The least popular? And no it’s not Grape-nuts.
“I’ve actually sold some Grape-nuts,” Geist says. “Apple Jacks is really not that popular.”
Which is probably why the little apple-flavored O’s are Hogan’s favorite cereal at the moment.
“I never thought I’d like Apple Jacks, but yeah, I like that a lot,” he says laughing. “Yeah, it is the least favorite, that’s probably why I eat so much of it, because I’m trying to get through it.”
— Staff writer Sarah Henning can be reached at 832-7187.