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Who writes all those fancy restaurant chalk boards?

Posted by Tim / June 7, 2012

Restaurant chalk boardsThe answer to this question you might assume is someone who works at the restaurant. But as it turns out, sometimes the writing on the boards is out-sourced to someone with a more, um, specialized talent. Enter Rajiv Surenda who recently started writing boards for places like Cafe Pamenar and Juice Department in Kensington Market, as well as bowling alley The Ballroom and King West fish and chip joint The One That Got Away. I recently caught up with Surenda to find out more about his adventures in chalk.

How did you get into chalkboard calligraphy?

I've been doing calligraphy for over ten years and a friend suggested I start writing on restaurants' chalkboards to get my work out there and seen by a wider audience. Writing with chalk is really stress free, as the lines can be erased and rewritten easily, unlink my other work with pen and ink.

How much time does it take you to complete a chalkboard?

The average chalkboard takes a little over an hour to complete, from start to finish. Elaborate, larger boards that usually will not change for a few months (regular menus) will take from 3-5 hours.

How much do you charge the business for this work?

Prices depend on intricacy and time involved. Generally a sidewalk chalkboard will cost a customer between $30-60. Larger boards inside the establishments (protected from the elements!) range from $100-300.

How do you get new clients?

I approach new clients with a portfolio of my work, a positive attitude, and my big bright smile!

Who are your competitors?

My competitors are the staff members who work in the restaurants and cafes - the ones that possess good writing skills...

What's next for you?

I am taking my bag of tricks wherever I travel. I was recently in Munich, Germany, and was thrilled with the response that my work received. Restaurants and cafes were very open to having me re-write their boards. I'd like to continue to travel throughout North America and Europe and find work wherever I am.

Restaurant chalk boardsRestaurant chalk boardsPhotos by Christian Humphrey



Bob / June 7, 2012 at 02:31 pm
It's true... I will avoid walking into a restaurant if the sandwich board is lame, or if the signage is really bad.
Philamania / June 7, 2012 at 02:39 pm
I did not know that.
Now I know.
... / June 7, 2012 at 02:53 pm
People will pay for anything in this city.

Also, I love how in-depth this interview was. It made me feel like I too was a professional chalkboard writer.
Jeffrey Beaumont / June 7, 2012 at 03:13 pm
Someone else to look for around the city with amazing hand styles:
Custom hand painted stuff, you'd be surprised how many signs you're already familiar with.
Pk replying to a comment from ... / June 7, 2012 at 03:30 pm
you wear Dockers with pleats and black shiny shoes with squared-off toes.
Well.. / June 7, 2012 at 03:39 pm
Well you know my name is Simon...
Naomi / June 7, 2012 at 03:43 pm
You should write a story on Andrew Kidder (RCade). He is hands down the best traditional sign painter in Toronto. Did the signs for Chantecler, Community 54 and more. I've never met anyone so good at letters in my life!
mike in parkdale / June 7, 2012 at 03:43 pm
yeah, rcade is dope. Good to see he's still at it. Am I confusing him with someone, but wasn't he formerly known as 'SNIC'? Or was that someone else? Been a long time....
Naomi / June 7, 2012 at 03:44 pm
@Jeffrey - We're on the same page. He's briliant ;)
Jeffrey Beaumont / June 7, 2012 at 03:53 pm
neilson / June 7, 2012 at 08:52 pm
ugh... why is bad taste ubiquitous?
Chester Pape / June 7, 2012 at 09:30 pm
Rcade/SNIC/Andrew Kidder does fantastic traditional sign painting, it's great to see that once ubiquitous art hasn't been allowed to completely die out (When my uncle ran a business he would have work like that done on his store windows and delivery trucks, then one day the guy who did it just disappeared and in Hamilton in the 70s there was nobody else who knew how to do it).

There are other chalk artists in the city, I know the guy who does the chalkboards for Belong Cafe and many other restaurants.
Soni / June 7, 2012 at 09:58 pm
I've actually wondered about that. Thanks for the article!
DS replying to a comment from neilson / June 7, 2012 at 11:07 pm
We like nice things.
neilson replying to a comment from DS / June 7, 2012 at 11:18 pm
sorry dual screen,

you like thoughtless, trendy bullshit. If you knew anything about wood cut typography you'd see this for what it is; tacky pap out to sell you lacklustre tacos.

keep your wayfarers, deep vees, stupid sperrys and idiotic qualitative quips to yourself. because nobody (least of all yourself) will like this shit fifteen minutes from now.
n replying to a comment from neilson / June 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm
you sound very bitter-get over yourself
MrsP / June 7, 2012 at 11:46 pm
I love the ever-changing chalk board in OMG Baked Goodness!
neilson / June 7, 2012 at 11:49 pm

i could give some grandiose delineation on the difference between being bitter and being an insightful satirical pessimist, but this wouldn't help you as you imagine there's something for me to "get over".
Andy McKay replying to a comment from neilson / June 8, 2012 at 01:36 am
You're so smart. A real academic. Graduated from UofT with a degree in political science, perhaps...with honours...
Ratpick / June 8, 2012 at 09:07 am
I, for one, am happy to see that hand-lettered signage lives on in some form!

neilson / June 8, 2012 at 11:13 am
incorrect andy, but i appreciate your thoughtless assumption.
DS replying to a comment from neilson / June 8, 2012 at 11:43 am
What's wrong schnookums? Did you have to sleep in the basement again with the spiders last night?
Bobby replying to a comment from Jeffrey Beaumont / June 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm
cosign Rcade, dude is legit and is killing it with the custom painted signs and windows

Bobby replying to a comment from neilson / June 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm
Neilson, Why don't you show us some of the creative stuff you work on then we can judge you?
neilson replying to a comment from DS / June 8, 2012 at 04:08 pm
Dull Spanner,

wow, assuming i'm poor is really mean-spirited and shitty of you. Your judgmental appraisal and bizarre defamatory remarks are what keep me going. Oh, I almost forgot to commend you for your condescending tone... cheers, schnookums!

bobby: http://sidlee.com/#works -> havana club is a good place to start.
neilson / June 8, 2012 at 05:16 pm
Wait a minute…

why should I have to defend myself on this free, atrociously written wankfest of a blog site?

How embarrassingly downmarket this hubristic circle jerk of a troll-off has become. I'm going out to do meaningful work instead of flinging hate at a bunch of know-nothing wannabe hipsters. At least on the toronto life message board i'd be debating true yuppie-retards instead of the social-climbing mongoloids that populate this electronic nether region.

reality beckons kiddy-winks, you can keep your pissy attitude and blinged-out bullshit. i'm off to the real world.
elaxiaSaume / June 8, 2012 at 06:47 pm
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@heidorama / June 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm
An uptick in aesthetics when it comes to chalkboard signage is a shot in the arm for Toronto.
A world-travelled artist obviously schooled in genre script? Yes please !
Keep blogging Toronto ... Taking artistic risks (or plain olde gumption) is Kryptonite to hipsters.
Rajiv / June 9, 2012 at 01:22 am
Thanks for the comments! I like what I like...and I love doing this...so I'm grateful to all the restaurant and cafe owners who are giving me their patronage ;-)
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bumbo / September 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm
This is same guy that played Kevin in "Mean Girls"?
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angela / November 25, 2013 at 08:00 pm
Another amazing Toronto based street artist who also dazzles many chalkboards is Victor Fraser! As Torontonian you have most certainly passed by his work at some point. He has a giant tape measure at Spadina and Richmond, work all along Queen west on sidewalk, bars and cafes. He also pimps out the east end quite well. Check his work at Sauce, the Only Cafe and the Red Rocket!
steveczajka / December 1, 2013 at 01:38 pm
great post. We referenced it in http://torontocalligraphyguild.org/2013/12/01/calligraphy-on-pinterest/

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I need someone who will write on our chalk board for restaurant in Rosebud Victoria
Luis Granati / March 19, 2016 at 07:19 pm
I need a person who knows how to write on a chalk board in Ottawa, mi phone number is 613-233-2460
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