You might not know Lauren Hom’s face, but if you’ve walked around Crown Heights–or the Upper West Side, East Village, or Williamsburg–you might be familiar with her handwriting. “My friends joke that soon, all the signs in the city will look the same,” Home laughed as she perfected the lettering on a sign for vegan soup at The Organic Grill in the East Village.
Last year, the 24-year-old graphic designer decided to quit a big corporate advertising job to go freelance, and found that she had some extra time on her hands. She was walking down Franklin Avenue when she noticed a common theme among Brooklyn restuarants: Most of them had chalkboard sandwich signs out front. So she decided to offer up her skills to neighborhood cafes as a hand-letterer. The bartering contract was that Hom would chalk out whatever was necessary on a blackboard in exchange for a meal. “The deal is that I get one of everything that I write,” Hom said.
Hom, who graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2013, started handing out flyers for her work in September, and quickly found her inbox clogged with email requests for her services. Since she lives in Crown Heights, many of the local restaurants that have popped up along Franklin and Washington Avenue, like seafood bistro Docklands and Korean BBQ joint Kimchi Grill.
“I try to do one or two signs a week, as my schedule allows,” Hom said. She tries to match the signs to the restaurants style, choosing a color palette to go along with the overall decor of the place. Most projects take her anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, though at the beginning Hom spent close to five hours on one. She tends to chalk things like specials and new items that restaurants want advertised, rather than lettering an entire menu. “I just don’t have that much time, and I can’t drink that much coffee” Hom said.
Trading her skills for food items allows Hom to eat out more often than she otherwise might, and bring her friends along. When we spoke to Hom, she had just finished drawing a cocktail menu for a ritzy Upper West Side establishment, and was planning on bringing a friend to enjoy the fruits of her labor later that night. “My friends are pretty happy about this business too,” Hom said.
But it’s also a clever piece of advertisement for her hand-lettering freelance business, as her name is passed along through word of mouth from pleased cafe owners. The Organic Grill, for example, was a repeat customer. And though Hom draws her boards built to last (her advice is to give a light spritz of hairspray over chalk signs to make them a bit more weatherproof), some normal wear and tear on chalk means that there’s the potential for many future meals ahead.
So far, Hom has done 15 or 16 signs as she has no plans of stopping. “I’ve gotten to try so many delicious things,” Hom said. “Plus, free food always tastes better.”