This Design Expert Knows How to Make a Small Restaurant Go Viral

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If you go to by CHLOE and don’t Instagram it, did it even happen? Photo: Mikey Pozarik

It’s rare for a restaurant’s sugar packets to become signature items. Yet, that’s the case at Jack’s Wife Freda, where they’re ideal Instagram fodder. In all-caps Horley font, they’re printed with sweet sayings like, “I LOVE YOU A LATTE,” “HUG MORE,” “SUGAR PIE HONEY,” and “HEY THERE, HOT-TEA.” It’s a small but critical design choice that’s become a status symbol of dining there — the Jewish-leaning food, or even the restaurant’s name, doesn’t even have to appear in a photograph to make the place easily identifiable and desirable.

Laureen Moyal, the founder of Paperwhite Studio, came up with the idea, which she calls a “light-bulb moment,” and it has helped the five-year-old neighborhood restaurant, with only two tiny locations in downtown New York, experience breakout success. Her branding and design work are also on display at the rapidly expanding by CHLOE, proving the she has the skills to turn small, local restaurants into lifestyle brands, defined as much by their visual identity as their food.

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A signature Jack’s Wife Freda shot. Photo: Henry Hargreaves

Moyal founded Paperwhite in 2008, when she was only 24, after studying graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design. She also loved cooking, and considered attending culinary school. When she decided to stick with design, she bridged her two passions by seeking out clients in the food industry. Moyal created personal websites for chefs before landing her first restaurant project — Victory Garden — in 2010. “We learned a lot about the different components that make up the identity of a food space beyond the logo — signage, menus, packaging, website,” she says. “It confirmed my passion for branding in food, and motivated me to pursue more projects.”

That next project was Jack’s Wife Freda, which was a “real turning point” because Paperwhite’s work clearly began to impact a business’s success. Owners Dean and Maya Jankelowitz hired Moyal, a friend, before they opened in 2012, asking her to design the menu. She landed on a oversize paper menu dotted with quirky illustrations. “It took a moment to get it right,” Dean says. “Literally a moment. I think the first menu she came back to test with was perfect.” And, since the menu could serve as a place mat, it also created an ideal backdrop for overhead food shots — just as Instagram’s popularity was starting to grow.

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Jack’s Wife Freda’s place-mat-style menu.
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It helps that the food is photogenic, too. Photo: Henry Hargreaves

Jack’s Wife Freda currently has 120,000 Instagram followers — compare that to nearby the Dutch’s 11,100, or the Spotted Pig’s 20,500. Its initial social-media success was actually more the result of a happy accident than a precise design or marketing strategy. “Jack’s was not designed for Instagram,” Moyal says. “It just happens that Instagram was picking up around the same time, and Maya was posting shots of the restaurant, and it allowed our work to be more public.” A turning point occurred in 2014, when BuzzFeed included Jack’s Wife Freda in a roundup of food Instagram accounts, and its follower count jumped by a few thousands and steadily increased for weeks.

Once Moyal realized the impact of Instagram, she quickly capitalized on it — adding design cues all around, driving home the heartfelt, mom-and-pop love story behind the restaurant, which is named after Dean’s immigrant grandparents. In custom-created handwriting (now called “Jack’s Right Hand”), Moyal printed sayings on the aforementioned sugar packets, as well as on coasters and matches (“We’re a Perfect Match”). “We wanted guests to really feel the presence of Jack and Freda, and having a typeface derived from actual handwriting was an important contribution to that feeling of authenticity,” she says. “We chose the secondary font — Horley, a nostalgic old-style serif — as a reference to classic ‘café’ aesthetic.”

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Also a cute souvenir. Photo: Henry Hargreaves

This has translated into tangible effects for the business, which still draws long wait times five years after opening. Not only does Moyal’s work help attract more customers — “It’s very comforting for people to see the restaurant first on Instagram, and step inside and have it match up exactly,” Dean says — but Instagram can also help the owners ensure quality control when they’re not in the restaurants (a third location will open this year). “When we’re looking at Instagram, we’ll notice if the egg yolks aren’t balanced correctly, or the sauce isn’t right. We can tell what’s missing from the shots. It’s amazing to be able to see that without being present at every single table.” Plus, social media recently helped the couple score a deal for a 256-page cookbook, which Moyal designed. It came out last week, and there are already dozens of Instagrams of the book’s seafoam-green cover.

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Many couples have actually met here and gone on to marry. Photo: Mikey Pozarik

For her next project, Moyal knew Instagram had to be an integral part of the creative brief. ESquared Hospitality’s Samantha Wasser, the co-founder of by CHLOE, actually found Moyal through Instagram, and initially hired her for Horchata. “When we partnered with Chloe [Coscarelli], Laureen was the first one I asked — she actually came up with the name ‘by CHLOE.’ We were thinking of putting Chloe’s name in it, but we didn’t want to call it Chloe’s Kitchen. She thought to leave the word in front open-ended, and see where the brand takes us. And when we opened our bakery, we were able to name it Sweets by Chloe.” (Now that ESquared has “terminated” ties with Coscarelli, earning the legal right to continue to grow the brand without her involvement, this might change — especially because Coscarelli is suing to prevent the company from using her name.)

With her now-seven-person team at Paperwhite, Moyal drew inspiration from Pop Art typography and supermarket signage from the ’80s and ’90s. Moyal essentially nailed the logo on the first try, choosing sans-serif Brown for its proportions. “With so few letters in the name, it was important that there be the right balance,” she says. “In this case, we were especially aware of the C and O, which in Brown are very symmetrical.” In the course of a little over one year, she and Wasser revised it three times, focusing mostly on spacing. For the supporting script — in which by CHLOE prints cheeky sayings like, “Thank You Berry Much,” “SO FRESH and SO CLEAN,” “We make a PRICKLY PAIR,” and “KALE US MAYBE!” — Paperwhite opted for Sign Painter, as an homage to the craft of hand-lettering in vintage advertising.

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Instagram gold. Photo: Mikey Pozarik
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The takeout bag. Photo: Jed Egan

The biggest challenge at by CHLOE was making vegan food, often seen as holistic and serious, come across as fun and playful. To that end, Moyal once again created charming illustrations: icons of pineapples and French fries and cameras (“SNAP A PIC! #bychefCHLOE”) that appear on paper place mats, takeout bags, cups, burger holders — practically every surface in sight — creating countless different Instagram “moments,” and for the time of a meal, making customers feel absorbed into the world of the restaurant. There’s even a logo printed on the side of a whole coconut. “We wanted to push against the expected notions of what a vegan restaurant would look like,” Moyal says.

Most of the script and icons are in black-and-white, but there are a few pops of bright colors. (The pink, neon “YOU BATTER BELIEVE IT!” sign at the Nolita location is also an Instagram favorite.) “Early on, I said, ‘If this brand is going to be around for 100 years, I’m going to get so sick of a color!” Wasser says. (See: millennial pink.) “That’s why a lot of it is black-and-white, because it’s so classic. My friend said it looked like a clothing company, and I said, ‘Perfect!’ We want it to feel more like a lifestyle brand.” While by CHLOE is clearly targeting millennials — “That’s the most current group that’s into food trends,” Moyal says — the brand also plays well to kids. There are crayons in the restaurant so that people can color the menus themselves, and then, of course, Instagram their art. (By CHLOE has 68,000 followers, but is so confident in customers snapping photos that it doesn’t post any actual images from the restaurant, just lifestyle inspiration.)

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Pops of color appear mostly in the food and drinks. Photo: Mikey Pozarik

As with Jack’s Wife Freda, this panoramic approach to branding motivates customers to photograph their entire by CHLOE experience from start to finish — not just one dish. Since both places often have long wait times, people often Instagram in some form before the food even arrives, almost as if it’s a trophy for making it inside. Ultimately, this turns dining into a Pokémon Go–style game — can you catch that coveted shot?

“I see it on the Yelp reviews — people write, ‘After seeing this on my Instagram for so long, I finally had to try it!” Wasser says. “They’re motivated to come in and take their own photo. It’s probably had an impact on check averages. When we opened in Boston two weeks ago, the check average was so high because it was everyone’s first time coming in, and they wanted to try everything that they had seen before. It for sure comes into play because people eat with their eyes. Because it’s our most photogenic item, our quinoa-taco salad is our best seller.”

A crucial part of the success of this branding is that it’s flexible: Moyal prefers to establish an ongoing partnership with a restaurant, so she and her team can see what works and adjust accordingly. “There’s no secret to making a restaurant go viral, and before the doors open, you don’t know how people will react,” she says. “But part of creating a successful brand in this context is constant contact with our clients,” she says. “Once we launch a brand, we don’t just walk away. The brand is a living, breathing thing that we maintain on a regular basis. We’re not letting it go stale.”

Moyal is selective about her clients — she’s also done work for Bubby’s, Nourish Kitchen + Table, Taïm, and Smile to Go — and before signing on, she always tastes the food to ensure it’s delicious and reflective of genuine passion. “I think people can read bullshit,” she says. “Thankfully, I have not yet been in a situation where that was a necessary measure. We have been extremely lucky so far to have clients who make great food.” Still, she had her doubts about a burger made with tempeh, lentils, and chia seeds. “I have to admit that before trying the food for by CHLOE, I was skeptical, and even a bit worried. I was completely biased about vegan food, and convinced it was not for me. It blew my mind from the very first bite, and I knew then that we weren’t creating a brand for vegans. We were creating a brand for everyone.”

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Get ready for by CHLOE ice-cream shops. Photo: Mikey Pozarik

Paperwhite’s next project is another collaboration with Wasser: a fast-casual Italian concept named the Sosta, which will open this spring in the space of a former hardware store on Kenmare Street. And despite the nasty legal battles, the agency is also working hard to help expand by CHLOE around the country, making city-specific illustrations (like of the Williamsburg bridge, the Red Sox B, and a palm tree), and developing a vegan ice-cream spinoff. In New York, especially, where the number of restaurants opening weekly is staggering, Paperwhite’s work serves as a critical advertising tool potentially months before these places even start serving customers. The Sosta, after all, already has its own Instagram page with a specific aesthetic and color scheme, a few hundred followers, and not one but two logos.

This Design Pro Knows How to Make a Restaurant Go Viral