When Sauvage was gearing up to open, the owners of the Greenpoint restaurant could have gotten required signage from the city for free.
But instead, they customized everything from the no smoking sign to the choking first aid poster, with hand-painted signs in brass frames or plaques that fit the 1960s French student revolution-inspired aesthetic of the two-year-old spot.
“Most people have generic pieces of paper in a frame hanging on a wall — they’re almost always generic, 99.9 percent of the time,” said co-founder Joshua Boissy. “If you’re trying to stand out in a city with 9 million people you have to find your own way to do that. That’s one of the ways we do that.”
It was no small investment: The choking poster, for one, cost $500 to commission, its brass frame another $100.
“Instead of it being something you want to hide in a stairway, we put it on display as a piece of art in the dining room,” Boissy said. “Spending $600 on a choking poster to most people sounds crazy. But when your focus is attention to detail, it has to be across the board. It has to be everything from the lipstick color that the hostess wears to the color and style of the menus to the legal posters.”
Boissy was inspired in part by Hotel Delmano. The 10-year-old Williamsburg cocktail bar’s choking poster became ubiquitous once its illustrator, Alex Holden, started selling the blue tropical prints online (now at $75 a pop).
“Sometimes I’ll get someone who’s a tourist and saw it and wanted it for their kitchen. But I would say 80 to 90 percent are in New York [restaurants],” said Holden, who’s also given prints of the poster to friends at Williamsburg’s The Commodore (which is on its third after two thefts) and the forthcoming Paradise Lounge in Ridgewood.
The manager at Union Pool, Holden naturally has his poster hanging there, too. He’s also spent the last few years updating all of the signage in the popular Williamsburg bar, from required ones like the drinking age minimum and alcohol warning for pregnant women to the credit card minimum notice.
“It’s been gradual — there’s a lot of it,” said Holden, who uses Brooklyn’s Van Zee Sign Co. for the hand-painted signs.
ESquared Hospitality’s Samantha Wasser saw the value of custom signs after opening multiple outposts of the vegan restaurant By Chloe. At her latest concept, the month-old Middle Eastern fast-casual eatery Dez in NoLIta, Wasser worked with her right-hand brand company Paperwhite Studio to create the required restaurant signage on vinyl so they can be wiped down as many times as needed. There are also extras, like a sign on the bathroom mirror that says “You’re always hot in the Dez” (for selfies).
“I try to make improvements on things I feel over time could be worked on — silly things, and operational things,” Wasser said.
Boissy envisions customers appreciating these types of details on repeat visits. “You first go and you’re analyzing the food and paying attention to the table and servingware. As you go back a second and third time, you’re looking for new things.”
Bars and restaurants don’t need to use the city’s supplied signs, as long as they make their own with the right text and visuals. Though sometimes those creations can cause pause.
“Some inspectors will give you a hard time,” said Danny Nusbaum, a partner at the year-old all-day cafe Golda in Bed-Stuy, which has custom illustrated signs for its choking, employees must wash hands and no smoking signs.
“I’m very big on detail, so this is just part of the detail,” Nusbaum said. “They give you a little bit of an edge, while staying within the law.”