Decatur shop offers cereal killer desserts

Cynthia Hernandez was on a family vacation in Spain five years ago when she discovered near her hotel a restaurant concept that she had never seen in the United States—an eatery that featured only cereal. “I ate there with my son, and it was a wonderful experience,” she recalled. “It wasn’t just the food; it took me back to my childhood and the carefree days of eating cereal as I did homework or watched television. I immediately started thinking that I would love to own a place like this.”

Although she had no previous experience as a business owner, Hernandez began exploring possibilities, even selecting a name—The Cereal Lab—before she returned to America. She left what she describes as “a great job with great benefits” because she felt deeply that this was something she had to try. “I didn’t know whether this concept would appeal to people in this part of the world or not, but I was determined to try. I know that you fail at some of the things you try, but you fail at 100 percent of the things you never try.”

Before she could get her business off the ground, the pandemic struck. “It affected every business—most were affected in a bad way, but it gave me some time to work on my concept and develop it before opening to the public,” she said.

The owner of the shop in Spain where Hernandez first got the idea for her business was very helpful to her, she said. “He was wonderful and generous in sharing information. Unfortunately, his business did not survive the pandemic.”

The Cereal Lab is actually a dessert shop that sells ice cream and other desserts that feature cereal as a topping or ingredient. The menu lists 38 varieties of cereal, 16 toppings, 10 drizzle options and six types of milk, from which customers can create their owns treats, in addition to such signature creations as Captain Pebbles, Butta Love, and Downtown Decatur.

She acquired a food truck and sold her fare at various locations before deciding that she needed a stationary location. She said she looked at several that didn’t work out before locating her business on West Ponce de Leon in downtown Decatur. “I was disappointed when the original locations I tried for didn’t work out, but as it turned out, the Decatur location is perfect. I am fortunate that the others didn’t work out.”

Hernandez, who is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said her efforts to secure financing were the only place she felt her ethic background was an obstacle. “Banks are not as ready to lend to a Black woman, especially with a novel business idea,” she said. “I ended up financing the startup entirely with my own money. The Decatur business community and the community generally have been welcoming. I never felt any discrimination from them.”

She primarily operates the shop alone, but Hernandez said she gets support and help from family. Although her husband works full time and her son is still in school, both help when they’re needed. She said her parents, although they are no longer together and live in different parts of the country, have supported her every step of way, adding that her 13-year-old sister has been a dependable sampler of new recipes.

During the first weeks of running her shop, Hernandez faced a family tragedy that left her shattered. “My first employee was my brother Richard. On Dec. 27, he took his own life. I was devastated. I try to remain positive and remember how excited he was about the business. He believed in it. He would really be proud of what we have accomplished,” she said.

The shop has been a hit since it opened three months ago, according to Hernandez. “We already have regulars who know me by name,” she said, adding that she features a bright décor that supports the fun atmosphere that she tries to create. “I know it seems odd opening a dessert shop where ice cream is a central feature in November just as winter is coming, but that didn’t seem to be a problem.

“Many people like the concept for the same reason I did,” Hernandez continued. “They are excited to see cereals that they hadn’t tasted since childhood. Not everyone loves cereal, but when they try our desserts, they usually like them. We create converts every day.”

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