Starboard

Designed by Matthew Wyne, San Francisco.

Starboard logo

Starboard is a restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District that’s trying to keep alive the neighborhood’s Mom and Pop, punk rock aesthetic. I live in the Mission, the founders of the restaurant live in the Mission, and we love this neighborhood. But while we’re glad it’s a whole lot safer here than it was ten years ago, the influx of tech money has forced out some of the more quirky businesses that used to be bastions of San Francisco’s creative spirit.

The genesis of the logo reflects this desire to make things more madcap and less polished. The team started cutting up my first round of sketches and pairing the pieces. At first I was pissed, but I softened when they told me why. They wanted the logo to set the tone for an identity that embraced a wide variety of stylistic influences. Matching a sans serif with a script sends a clear message that we’re doing things differently.

For the rest of my career, I’ll remember sitting at the bar with the owners after it closed, pouring a glass of whiskey and spending an hour trying to make the next person laugh. In the midst of this, somehow, we started imagining what the dishes might look like if we illustrated them literally. How do you draw a Hawaiian pork sandwich without actually depicting sliced pork on a bun? What would our mascot be? The ideas covered the spectrum from juvenile to surreal, and if they still held up the next morning, I created mockups for the team.

Starboard cards

Starboard cards

Starboard cards

Starboard matches

Before I started designing, I spent a few afternoons at the public library. The SFPL has an extensive restaurant ephemera collection that dates back to the early 1900s and the pieces were really inspiring. The fonts in the Starboard identity (there are 10 of them) were all common on local menus during different historic periods and you’ll see nods (“no service less than 30 cents a person”) to messaging from a bygone era. Like the logo, this typographic mash-up sets the tone for an eclectic dining experience, and the language on the menu (“with horseradish like fresh fallen snow”) lets you know that we take our food seriously, but not ourselves.

Starboard menu bucketStarboard menu bucket

Starboard menu

Starboard menu

Starboard menu

Starboard menu

Starboard menu

I knew I had to paint a mural as soon as I saw the giant walls of the space, but deciding what to put on those walls took a little doing. My ideas came across a little too “preachy” for the Starboard team. They’d seen enough manifestos in restaurants and the last thing they wanted was to sermonize.

We went back and forth, and as I often do, I started drawing letters as we talked, just picking any word out of the conversation and trying to render it in an appropriate style. When they saw my sketches, someone said, “Yeah, let’s just do random words in all different styles.” Then someone else said, “We could do lorem ipsum!” “Chipotle did that on their bags,” I said, “And I’d rather not repeat it.” And just like that, “What about the quick brown fox…” came out of someone’s mouth. We all knew that was it.

Starboard mural

Starboard mural

Starboard mural

Starboard mural

It was important to me to make sure people got a feel for the vibe just walking by the place. We wanted to get your attention from across the street. The yellow helps, as does the hand-painted sign with the arrow pointing down at the front door. But we also wanted to include some of the illustration and copywriting we’d been having so much fun with, so we created two window decals with as close to a motto as you’ll get out of this group — all of the fixings, almost all the time.

Starboard exterior

Starboard exterior

Time and again on this project, when I started taking things in a classic “design” direction, the team at Starboard reminded me to zig instead of zagging so we could give diners an experience they can’t have anywhere else. They wanted the design to be as personal as the food and the service, and I’m grateful to them for encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone.

If you happen to be in San Francisco, please stop by and tell them I sent you. I recommend the Pho-Rench dip with steak au poivre on an Acme roll with a Vietnamese jus, but everything’s just as delicious as it is quirky — that’s why I love the place.

Starboard interior

Starboard interior

Starboard interiorStarboard owner Daniel Hyatt.

Various photos by John Storey, special to The Chronicle.

See more from designer Matthew Wyne.

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