Melk Diner & Cereal Bar has closed

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Melk Diner & Cereal Bar, June 3, 2019. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

“Melk is closed forever,” according to a note posted on the door of the downtown Iowa City restaurant. The short-lived diner and cereal bar opened in December, in the E Washington Street space that used to house Food Republic.

Melk’s menu was heavily weighted towards breakfast items, although burgers and other non-breakfast-style sandwiches and wraps were available. Its most distinctive feature was an extensive collection of breakfast cereals.

“They have everything from granny standbys like Honey Bunches of Oats to cereals so sugary it’s hard to believe they actually exist, like Sour Patch Kids,” said Little Village columnist Audrey Brock, after visiting the restaurant in February for her “Brock About Town” column.

Melk’s website is still online, but doesn’t mention the closing. Its Facebook page has not been updated since May 11.

Owner Jacob Pajunen was 21 years old when he opened Melk last year. “We’re just trying to do something different, be different,” he told the Daily Iowan in December.

Gabriel Caballero, Melk’s executive chef, told the DI he designed the menu to give vegans new options when eating downtown.

Melk’s plentiful cereal wall, behind their front counter. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Cereal bars experienced a burst of popularity around the country more than a decade ago, as restaurateurs sought to tap into the nostalgia some people feel for the breakfasts of their childhood. But Audrey Brock went to Melk for the opposite reason.

As she explained in her column, Brock grew up in Cedar Rapids, breathing in the city’s unique aroma generated by the Quaker Oats plant on “Crunch Berry day,” when the “smell of artificial fruit flavors hangs so heavy in the air, you can practically see it.” But her parents insisted she eat a healthy, and deeply unappealing, brand of oatmeal to start the day.

Melk gave college-age Audrey a chance to live out the breakfast dreams of her younger self.

So, I ordered a bowl of Crunch Berries. The first bite was bliss. It was like going home for Christmas and using the body spray you wore in middle school: terrifyingly sweet and reminiscent of beautiful, cringey memories. Immediately, I made plans to move into Melk, pitch a tent in the kitchen and eat nothing but breakfast cereal for the rest of my life.

The second bite instantly gave me a headache.

Like your first real hangover and bringing earplugs to a concert, getting too old for cereal is one of those aging milestones that happens a lot sooner than you’d think.

In the note tacked to the door, Melk thanked all of its patrons for their support. “Good times!” the note ended.

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