Sign Appétit

Electric and non-electric signage projects raise the aesthetic profile of three restaurants.
VIVI DESIGN CO. (Bend, OR) designed four exterior signs for the Tumalo Feed Co. Steakhouse.

What makes a good restaurant? Well, quite obviously, any eatery with mediocre food is unlikely to secure repeat customers and thereby faces the specter of the guillotine. The next attribute in line is probably quality of service, as even a well-grilled burger can leave a bitter taste if the server is inattentive, unenthusiastic or unknowledgeable – or, worse, all three. What about ambiance? For me, a welcoming feel is critical; who wants to experience bad vibes or weird lighting while dining? This last part is where signage is essential in establishing an atmosphere conducive to good business, particularly as customers enter the premises. Here are three signage projects that did their part to make a trio of restaurants succeed.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE SIGNPAINTERS

When VIVI DESIGN CO. (Bend, OR) took on a signage project for the Tumalo Feed Co. Steakhouse, a nearby historic restaurant, the idea was to maintain the spirit and authenticity of the establishment, while also freshening the look of a building built in 1965. In 1991, local signpainter Pat Thomas handpainted the signs for what was then called Tumalo Feed Co., but new ownership recently altered the name. (Bork said Thomas, now in his late 70s, still plays music at the restaurant once a week.) “As we worked on creating these signs for them, keeping the graphics traditional, Western and unique was the most important part in the design and build process,” said Janessa Bork, owner/designer at Vivi.

Formed in early 2018 by Bork and Joshua Ramp, a pair of freelance illustrators, Vivi ideally suited the Tumalo job. Vivi is not only the lone sign and graphics company in Bend that still practices gilding and traditional handpainting of signs, but it also designs, fabricates and installs its work, too. “In Oregon, a lot of signpainters do work on location or don’t do work large enough that it needs to be installed,” Bork said. “That’s one of our niches.”

Vivi designed four exterior signs for Tumalo, with the main logo sign checking in at 6 x 11 ft. and the double-sided road sign measuring 6.5 x 8.5 ft. – the biggest signs Vivi has built and installed to date. Medium-density overlay panel was used as the substrate– each sign required three sheets – and was painted with multiple 1Shot enamel colors, including Black, Metallic Gold, Brilliant Blue, Kool Crimson and Chrome Yellow. Vivi built and painted the signs in studio, with the main logo sign cut by a CNC router owned by SnoPlanks, a snowboard manufacturer whose boards Bork rides and represents as an ambassador in her spare time.

The signs were then disassembled for delivery and installation. On site, Vivi had to work around Tumalo’s vintage neon sign. “The signs blend into the historic building perfectly while making a bold statement with block lettering and detailed line work,” she said. “We sanded and repainted the pylon structure before installing the road signs, as well.” The new signs offer an updated appearance while prepping customers for an old-fashioned restaurant – and one of Tumalo’s famous steaks. So far, the new look is working; according to Bork, Tumalo has reported an uptick in customers since Vivi’s signs were installed. 

A (CANDY) EYE FOR SIGNAGE

eyecandy SIGNS produced an open-faced marquee channel letter sign and a double-sided projecting sign for Fortune Doughnut.
eyecandy SIGNS produced an open-faced marquee channel letter sign and a double-sided projecting sign for Fortune Doughnut.

The stylization of their name says it all: eyecandy SIGNS. The distinctiveness with which this Canadian sign company based in Halifax, NS spells its moniker reflects its penchant for uncommon custom signage. The company’s original specialty was carved, sculptural and dimensional signage, but eyecandy has since branched out, engaging in “pretty much anything you can think of in the sign world,” according to Lead Sales Representative Jenna Lawrence. “In order to be competitive, you have to do everything,” she added. And after a recurring client came to eyecandy with a specific request and a brief timetable, one could add “efficient” to that competitive checklist.

That client was Jeremy Smith, who owns a line of Freak Lunchbox candy stores in the area and was opening a new restaurant called Fortune Doughnut in Halifax. “He said, ‘I want letters with marquees in them, and I want them to be in these colors,’” Lawrence said, before adding Smith’s main condition to eyecandy. “Because he was under the gun for the opening, he said, ‘I’m only going to work with you if you can promise you’ll get this done [on time].’”

Smith’s exterior sign request was actually twofold: the unique open-faced marquee channel letter sign, and a more straightforward double-sided projecting sign. For the latter, Smith hired a design firm to craft the branding for the three-eyed cat, which featured digitally printed graphics on raised ¼-in. black acrylic. The sign’s diameter measured 22 in., and included a 2 x 1-in. PVC disk to encapsulate the aluminum frame.

For the channel letter sign, the letters were supported by a 2.5-in.-deep backer box constructed from 3 mm matte black Alupanel. The eyecandy team mounted 4-in.-deep letters directly to the backer with the inside faces painted in three colors: blue (Pantone 2198C), red (Pantone 1787C) and yellow (Pantone 116C). The 155 LED bulbs in the letters came from Showmen Supplies, a supplier to the carnival and amusement industry. Lawrence noted that the open-faced marquee lighting was a first-time pursuit for eyecandy. “I’ve done marquee lighting underneath awnings, but never front-face exposed marquee lighting,” she said.

From design to fabrication to installation, the entire project lasted less than four weeks, fulfilling Smith’s request. The eye-catching colors and appearance of the signage also mirrors the eclectic appeal of Fortune’s doughnuts. (A word of caution: don’t gander at Fortune’s Instagram page on an empty stomach.) “There’s always a risk when you’re moving through something faster than you think you should be,” Lawrence said. “We decided to go for it, and it worked out beautifully.”

LED SIGN, NEON LOOK

Humble Sign Co. came up with a unique multi-layered vinyl, front-lit channel letter design for Babin’s.
Humble Sign Co. came up with a unique multi-layered vinyl, front-lit channel letter design for Babin’s.

In 2010, Bart Peterschick started Humble Sign Co. (Humble, TX) in the aftermath of the Great Recession with no background in the sign industry. “It was born out of desperation,” Peterschick said. “My situation was pretty bad.” Nine years later, Humble employs around 50. Its clients include Landry’s, which owns more 600 restaurants, hotels, casino and entertainment properties in the US. One of Landry’s restaurants is Babin’s Seafood House; Humble was tasked with finding an alternative to Babin’s former neon sign at its Katy, TX location.

Humble formulated a few solutions for Babin’s, and the one that stuck was a multi-layered vinyl, front-lit channel letter design. The fabrication process began with two layers of vinyl being applied on each side of an acrylic substrate. After the vinyl was plotted, Humble used its CWT 1640 application table to lay the vinyl down. The shop ran its MultiCam APEX3R to CNC the channel letter faces, and Samsung LED modules provided the light source. “The stroke of the neon gets progressively wider with each layer of vinyl, so from distance, it gives it a glowing effect,” Peterschick said. “You would think you’re looking at an open-faced neon channel letter.”

Installation required eight hours and included removal of the existing neon sign, which was not salvageable, according to Humble Marketing Coordinator John Kim. With an assist from an Elliott L60 crane, installers carefully removed the old sign’s wires and letters, then mounted the new sign’s components along a curved wall. “The fabricators were able to build out each letter to account for the curvature,” Kim said.

Humble previously used the multi-layered vinyl look with Saltgrass Steak House, another Landry’s restaurant. “[Landry’s] loved it,” Peterschick said. “So we’ve applied that concept to some of their other brands.” As for the fish pointing skyward out of the sign structure, those are a staple at every Babin’s. Humble hired a local mural artist to apply a fresh coat of paint to the fish. “I wish we could take credit for that,” Peterschick said. The pursuit of quality food and service must be a daily endeavor for these three restaurants, but they can rest easy knowing their entry signage has established a convivial atmosphere for their customers.

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