Most businesses begin with a bright idea and a dream. But commercial enterprises that sprout from the mind of an 11-year-old child are relatively rare. Although Patricia Waters is the name on the business card for Chill Cereal Bar & Cafe, the 38-year-old single mom makes it clear that the mobile cereal eatery is the brainchild of her 13-year-old son, Elijah.
Two years ago, Elijah was taking cereal boxes out of the kitchen pantry when the notion struck him. “He was like, ‘Mom, we should open up a cereal bar,’” says Waters. “And it was like a lightbulb went on, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh — yes, we should!’”
Elijah dreamed up the name for the business and designed a logo. But Waters had no restaurant or business experience (her day job is working with disabled adults at a local nonprofit) and was at a loss as to how to get the venture off the ground. Undaunted, she stepped out of her comfort zone to sign up for entrepreneurial courses at Mountain BizWorks and connect with the Western Women’s Business Center.
“I said, ‘All right, I’ll take some classes and see where this goes,'” she says. So, March 7, 2019 — National Cereal Day — she and Elijah debuted their business with a pop-up event at a local day care center. “I was like, ‘I’m just going to come out with it; I’m going to step out on faith and just do it.'”
Since then, they have operated Chill as a cereal-themed catering service, hosting pop-up events at bridal showers, birthday parties, hair salons, youth camps, after-school programs, business meetings and more. The setup is simple: glass containers and dispensers full of a variety of cereals, milks, fruit, candy and other toppings.
All components can be customized to suit dietary needs and personal preferences, and Waters is able to keep prices affordable due to low overhead — she says she’s charged as little as $120 for a party of 200 people. At kid-focused events, she also organizes and leads cereal-themed games and activities. To keep food waste at a minimum, she sets up at local homeless shelters after events to offer excess goodies to the community.
Whenever Elijah isn’t busy with school — he’s a student at Francine Delaney New School for Children — he’s helping with the business. “As a parent, I’m showing him how to be an entrepreneur because they don’t teach this in school,” Waters says. “He goes to meetings with me. When he’s not in school, he goes to pop-ups with me. He’s seeing the process that it takes to be a businessperson.”
The mother-son team would like to see Chill eventually grow beyond pop-up events. If the right rental space presents itself, Waters says, they would love to someday open a brick-and-mortar cafe. A native of Leicester, Waters would want to keep her business close to home — preferably in West Asheville. She envisions a family-friendly, community-focused space with a play area for children, a coffee program, hot chocolate, juices and “maybe some mimosas because mamas need that,” she says.
“I want to bring back fun. You know, a lot of times we don’t even have time to sit down and have a bowl of cereal with our kids, we’re so in a rush all the time,” Waters adds. “What I’m trying to do is bring the community and families back together one cereal bowl at a time.”
Longtime locals might remember a similar venture more than a decade ago — Eaties, a funky downtown cereal bar filled with comfy couches and TVs broadcasting cartoons. It blipped onto the scene for about a year before closing in early 2008. In a farewell letter to Xpress, Eaties owner Becky Johnson noted several reasons for the demise of the business, including its hard-to-find space at 48 Commerce St. (the current location of Addissae Ethiopian restaurant).
“The true reasons vary: It’s hard to compete with fast-food prices; it’s hard to have a somewhat weird location; and it’s hard to have a restaurant based solely on cereal alone,” wrote Johnson. “[But] the biggest reason of them all holds true: We simply ran out of money. The few that loved us were unfortunately too few and too infrequent.”
There hasn’t been another cereal bar in Asheville since Eaties, but there are successful variations on the concept in other cities, such as Gizmo’s Cereal Bar in Los Angeles and the London-based international Cereal Killer Cafe.
Waters remembers Eaties and says she’s in no big rush to make a brick-and-mortar happen. She’s committed to taking the time to build startup capital without going into debt. “By taking baby steps, I’m right where I need to be,” she says. “I don’t want this to be for six months or a year, I want this to be forever. I want this [business] to be passed down.”
Elijah’s vision keeps her motivated. “It’s his dream,” she says. “Sometimes we don’t listen to our kids, you know? We’ve got to listen to them; you never know what kinds of ideas they’ll have.”
For more on Chill Cereal Bar & Cafe, look for the business on Facebook and Instagram.