Jennifer Jenkins wears pajamas to work. No, she's not forgetful or trying to be cute. Her work uniform is her PJs and her job is to manage the Cereality Cereal Bar and Café at the Memorial Union Building at Arizona State University in Tempe.
“The pajamas are part of the work environment,” said Jenkins, who graduated from ASU two years ago and was hired as manager of the cereal bar when it opened in August, 2003.
She and other cereal bar employees are called “cerealogists.”
The 200-square-foot kiosk located among several other fast-food stores along the main hallway at the student service building was the first in the country.
It was started as an experiment by co-founders David Roth, president and chief executive officer and Rick Bacher, chief creative officer.
“The folks at ASU heard about us and asked us to open a pilot cafe,” said Roth, whose company is based in Boulder, Colo.
“So far, it's not only a success but we've gathered information from it to use for more cafes we're planning to open soon,” Roth said. “We've cracked the code. We've created a standardized, branded restaurant format for eating cereal away from home all day long.”
The second cereal bar and its employees opened in November in an area near a retail section of the University of Pennsylvania. The 1,500-square foot bar has outdoor seating, and besides pajamas, employees also wear slippers.
“It's the beginning of Cereality's national rollout,” said Roth, a Harvard grad and entrepreneur who has worked as a consultant for Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Random House and written about food service and retail industries for The New York Times.
“Our next phase is opening more cereal bars in the downtown Chicago area, then possibly expanding throughout the country,” Roth said.
The goal is to establish the eateries at heavily-travelled areas such as airports, train stations, colleges and hospital lobbies.
“Yes, we've got ambitious plans,” Roth added.
He said kiosks in colleges and universities are often difficult to obtain, but they also restrict customers to students, faculty and campus visitors. Areas in heavily-travelled areas, including those near campuses, aimed at the general public can be even more profitable, Roth said.
As a quick food service, Cereality Cereal Bar and Café offers more than 30 cereals and 30 toppings along with a selection of three milk selections — skim, two percent or whole.
The cereal (two scoops) and one topping is placed in a leak-proof, 32-ounce container and costs $2.95. Extra toppings are 50-cents each. “The biggest question we get is how does it work,” said Jenkins, as she split a banana for one of the more popular, hot cereal dishes, the “Banana Brown Betty.”
A typical day at the ASU kiosk attracts most customers between 9 a.m. and noon, but many buy cereals and toppings for afternoon snacks and some, evening meals.
They're eaten either at the nearby student lounge, outdoor tables or on-the-move as the students go from class-to-class.
“I order cereal here almost every afternoon,” said ASU freshman Lake Campbell, whose favorites include Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops. “I really enjoy the cereals and I like the price.”
Jessica Elliott, a senior, stops at the cereal bar nearly every day to order fruit-and-yogurt. “It's a lot healthier than other eating places and you've got a lot of choices. Besides, it's fun.”
Vincent Orza, chairman of Chicago-based Eateries, Inc., and his wife, Patti, operate more than 100 restaurants throughout the country.
“We live part of the year in Scottsdale and I thought I'd come here and see what Cereality is like,” said Orza, who said he learned about the eatery watching the Today Show and CNN.
“We're always looking for new ideas and I've sent an e-mail to the owners, telling them I'm interested in a possible franchise,” Orza said.
Roth said future franchises may be considered, but the company for now remains privately-owned. He said profits from the ASU location are zooming.
Cereality's board-of-directors includes executives from some of the nation's largest corporations including Pier 1, Quaker Foods and PepsiCo as well as the former executive director of the United States Olympic Committee.
Co-founder Bacher, who created the company logo, an open Cereality bowl with a spoon, produced promotional pieces for HBO's “Sex and the City,” Nikon and was art director for The James Beard Foundation.
At ASU, the relatively new cereal bar is also the subject of a paper being worked on by a graduate student, said Neil Bryce, a Cereality employee who figures he has served thousands of cereal dishes since it opened.
“This place is a completely different concept,” said Bryce, who will graduate in June with a degree in small business and communications. “It's a friendly environment for both the customers and the employees. I'm learning a lot about how to become an entrepreneur just by selling bowls of cereal.”