PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A local designer creates special menus on walls and sandwich boards for restaurants as a trade for food.
“The more I write, the more I eat,” said Crown Heights resident Lauren Hom as she handwrote cocktail offerings on a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard inside Kimchi Grill, a Korean-Mexican fusion joint on Washington Avenue between Park and Sterling places.
Hom, 23, a freelance designer, illustrator and letterer, began Will Letter for Lunch earlier this fall, a service offered to any eatery interested in the terms: She'll make your menu beautiful with scrolling, well-laid-out handwriting in exchange for free food.
“No offense to anyone … but most menus look terrible,” Hom said as she worked on Kimchi’s menu Monday. “I used to work at a bar and whenever we would do specials and things … whoever was there would write it out. There was no one really in charge of it.”
Now, several restaurants in the neighborhood and in Manhattan have cleaned up their sandwich boards and wall menus by taking Hom up on her offer. She started out small — her first client, the organic eatery Mountain on Franklin Avenue, gave her a frittata in exchange for lettering a small sign — but has gotten bigger.
Last week, she said, The Lion in the West Village gave a “big feast” to Hom and seven friends complete with burgers, steaks, fried artichokes and mac and cheese in “payment” for Hom writing their offerings on the restaurant's large mirror.
“Every restaurant gives me full creative freedom,” she said. Other clients have included Ital Kitchen and Docklands in Crown Heights, Empire Mayonnaise in Prospect Heights and Brooklyn Flea vendors Chickpea + Olive.
The manager of Kimchi Grill, Tina Chiu-Maes, said the bartering arrangement is a win-win — delicious food for Hom and an easy way to improve the shop's branding, which she said is often neglected in the “laundry list” of things to do at a small business.
“With a really fun barter system like this, I can go to the owner and say, ‘Hey it’s not that much of a commitment. We should really do this,’” she said.
Since the service began, Hom has gotten more out of it than great meals. Her freelance work, which includes lettering for magazines and ad campaigns, has picked up — an unintended perk, she said.
“I never intended to make money off of it or anything,” she said. "It was kind of like a passion project."
Plus, she said, it doesn’t hurt that the neighborhood’s menu boards are getting a makeover.
“They’re all getting prettier," she said.