colored chalk menus
June 20, 2005 11:43 PM   Subscribe

Maybe this is San Francisco specific but ... can someone explain to me the prevalence of big colored-chalk menus on half the coffeehouse and small crepe places in this city? Are they all owned by the same people or is there some big colored-chalk menu discount place that they all buy from? Thanks.
posted by vacapinta to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
if you're thinking of crepeville and its various fronts, well, yeah, they're all done by the same folks -- they've got a crepeville down here too, and it's the exact same style (crepe de vine, which used to be on Shattuck in berkeley was apparently also part of the crepeville empire).

However, to remark upon the larger phenomenon of chalk on blackboard, I imagine it's because it makes the prices/menu fairly easy to change -- you don't need to repaint all of it or put up ugly little cover-ups if something changes -- just erase what's there and put up the new copy (although I would not be surprised if there is some sort of fixative used on most of those menu-boards just to ensure that the work doesn't flake off or otherwise fade, so it might be more complex than that).

Perhaps there's a company in SF that just happens to specialize in that and they're rather popular?

either way I'll be interested to see if someone else has some insider input on this.
posted by fishfucker at 11:48 PM on June 20, 2005

I've seen such signs in Seattle too. Chalk It Up is a company in Vancouver, BC that specializes in this type of menu and ships all over North America. My guess is that you are seeing their work, or one of their competitors. Probably not a local artist, although it certainly has that feel to it, which is probably why it's popular.

My Google-fu is strong... "chalk menu art"...
posted by kindall at 12:11 AM on June 21, 2005

Oh, here's Chalk Talk of Huntington Beach, CA., hmmm, took me a while to find that one. ;)
posted by kindall at 12:12 AM on June 21, 2005

I remember at the opening of the first Central Market there was a noticeable spelling error on one of these things. Weeks later it was still there, so I asked the guy behind the counter about it. I was told that they knew about it but they had to wait for an artist to come out and fix the typo. I would have figured they could just use some chalk.
posted by grouse at 12:33 AM on June 21, 2005

such boards are common in Europe, so I think they're being... cosmopolitan....
posted by forallmankind at 2:42 AM on June 21, 2005

Loads od pubs/cafes in the UK use chalk boards. Places that do food use them for specials, which can change on a daily basis, others just use them to let you know what beers are on, etc.
posted by biffa at 3:21 AM on June 21, 2005

I used to work in a pub in the UK and we used to do our own chalkboards (I used enjoy spending hours on them on a quiet afternoon making them pretty.....). The major chains tend to employ chalk board artists to do the more complicated/artistic stuff. You'll probably find that the same company does the boards for the area as previously said.
posted by floanna at 4:13 AM on June 21, 2005

When I lived in SF, I was told that all of the crepe places (Crepevine(s), Crepes on Cole, etc.) were owned by the same family (uncles, I think.) There are so many now, that I am sure that some of them are just copycats, e.g., Squat and Gobble vs. Crepevine. You can sometimes tell by the style of chalk-writing which ones are run by the same group. The entire crepe-chock-full-of-crap phenomenon seems to be unique to the Bay Area, or at least its popularity is!
posted by picklebird at 5:37 AM on June 21, 2005

Tons of places in Buffalo use those, too. Or the light-up blackboards with florescent markers.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2005

Or pink flamingos. ;-P (especially in Cheektowaga)
posted by Doohickie at 6:56 AM on June 21, 2005

I've heard that Trader Joes "back East" has in-store Art Directors who are responsible for their colorful blackboard displays. I've never seen anybody working on them at TJs on either coast, so I bet they only work on them after hours.
posted by Rash at 12:27 PM on June 21, 2005

here's my favorite Flickr chalk art from a supermarket- "Lord of the Bings". that's what you get for mentioning Buffalo.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 12:27 PM on June 21, 2005

I've seen a lot of them in the Chicago area too.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2005

It seems that the specific responses above are what you were after, but in case you were after the more general picture...

The chalkboard (or l'ardoise in French, which is now also a common name for bistro-style restaurants in North America) is the normal menu for a French bistro, which traditionally served a daily menu that changed regularly based on what was available at the market for purchase. It would have been impractical and expensive to print up menus for such places, due to the many changes required from day to day.

Note the similarity to "table d'hote" which of course is the daily fixed price (more or less) menu. It's often literally translated at "table of the host" but that's incorrect - it should be "board of the host" - and was/is usually written on a chalkboard even in a restaurant that has printed menus. So really the two things are related. (I'm not sure about current French usage, but current Quebec usage is that the "tableau" is the chalkboard in a classroom).

Now of course that image is used often as a marketing thing, to denote that French style. In Montreal at least, l'ardoise is still something you pretty much automatically look for in any restaurant when you sit down, in addition to the menu. Even in fine restaurants here it's still good advice to pick the daily special, and the full menu if possible, which is usually cheaper and better than something on the menu that sometimes isn't actually made that often in the kitchen.
posted by mikel at 1:48 PM on June 21, 2005

hmm. I hate to say it but my question didn't really get answered. This is my fault though because I was so imprecise.

I am aware of the concept of chalk menus and they are usual at most French restaurants. But that isnt what I meant.

Here in San Francisco, many of the crepe and coffeehouses have menus that look almost *exactly* the same. Same style, same colors, hell - sometimes the same menu items. Even looking at kindall's links, all those vendors have tons of variation in their colored-chalk menus. So, why would the SF places all choose the same one?? Something's going on here and I'm not sure what it is.

I think fishfucker understood what I was asking mostly because he's from around here. Again, sorry for not being clearer and thanks for the help. I'll just have to track this one down on my own. I've tried asking some waitstaff but they give me this "I don't get paid enough to care about that stuff" response." I need to track down an owner.
posted by vacapinta at 4:28 PM on June 21, 2005

The crepe place on Carl & Cole, the one in the Lower Haight, the one on 16th near Valencia and the one at 16th & Market are all related/spinoffs. Dunno about coffeehouses.
posted by judith at 5:33 PM on June 21, 2005

Warning: unhelpful and only semi-related comment appearing in 3...2...

Crepes on Cole has the best Crepes I've had in the city.
posted by menace303 at 9:28 PM on June 21, 2005

From a marketing point of view, the chalkboard imparts a less corporate, "hand made" personality to the business. It's much warmer and personal than a plastic sign with snap-on numbers. And, yes, many larger firms have departments that create the signs for their stores.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:04 AM on June 22, 2005

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