Bowling for dollars

This is a puff piece.

Puff as in the cocoa puffs, sugar puffs and all the other sickeningly sweet air-filled cereals now available by the bowlful at Eaties, Asheville’s first cereal café.

Snap, crackle and pop: Eaties owner Becky Johnson, center, is flanked by cereal lovers Ruth Peterson, left, and Zoe Peterson. photo by Jonathan Welch

“People will come in and see things they couldn’t have as a kid, and realize they can have them all,” recounts cereal slinger Jennifer Bledsoe.

The cheery self-serve cerealhouse, with walls painted sunny-side up yellow, has entrances at 48 Commerce Street and 90 Patton Ave. (the latter of which is next to the Weinhaus). It features two dozen varieties of not-just-for-breakfast grains, including organic hemp granola, ginger granola, Cheerios, Apple Jacks and Golden Grahams. Customers are encouraged to cement their sugar rushes by topping their bowls with chocolate raisins, peanut butter cups, marshmallows and gummy bears.

“I wouldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a whole box of Cookie Crisp for myself, but, once in a while, it’s exciting,” says Bledsoe.

Many of Eaties’ patrons show less restraint around the cavity-inducing stuff: According to Bledsoe, the cereal joint has been embraced by high schoolers, who have nowhere else to go late on a Friday night. The café encourages their visits with a schedule of weekly theme nights as wholesome as a carton of soy milk, including Gaming Tuesday and Poetry Thursday. (Saturday nights are reserved exclusively for adults, who presumably take their Total straight up.)

“Teenagers can’t go to clubs, but they can come here and hang out,” Bledsoe says. “Becky wants it to be a creative oasis for anyone.”

Becky is Becky Johnson, the 26-year-old owner of Eaties. She’d long planned on opening a business downtown, but couldn’t decide what to sell until she learned about cereal bars, a concept thrust into the mainstream by Cereality, a growing chain concentrated on college campuses that has lately been getting press for its not-so-sweet attacks on other cereal sellers. Founder David Roth has accused the Cereal Cabinet in Iowa City, the Cereal Bowl in Miami and the Cereal Joint in Gainesville of ripping him off.

Time magazine reported last year that Roth’s tactics worked in Iowa City, where owners switched to an all-Jamaican menu. But observers say it’s unlikely one lawsuit-happy entrepreneur will successfully stand between the nation’s snackers and their cereal bowls: Americans are hooked on krispies, flakes and O’s.

“It’s been really interesting to see the different responses,” says Bledsoe. “People come in and they’re either very curious or they love it.”

For more info and hours of operation, call Eaties at 505-1851.

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