The restaurant spends $85-$100 per month on chalk, according to the general manager.
Someone gets married. Someone has a birthday. Someone is happy and feels like drawing a sunflower with a smiley face on it. It’s all recorded in chalk by passersby at the Flagler Beach pier, on the Funky Pelican's public chalkboard.
“It is something that has become a draw,” said Erin O’Brien with a laugh. She's the general manager of the restaurant since it opened in January 2013, and she recently shared some details about how the chalkboard is handled.
Every night, the chalkboard is washed clean, and new chalk is set out. Sometimes during the busy season, the board is washed two or three times a day so there is always some room for the next person to write something new.
People have proposed marriage on the wall. Sometimes, when a birthday party is planned at the restaurant but no one can get there early enough, the Funky Pelican will get a call asking, Can you write Happy Birthday to so-and-so on the chalkboard for us? And O’Brien is a good sport.
“We’ll erase a little room and put it up there for them,” she said.
The cost is relatively small, but not zero: O’Brien buys $85 to $100 of chalk per month. There are also strict rules from the city — Flagler Beach had to give the restaurant special permission just to have the chalkboard in the first place — that forbid profanity or advertisements of any kind. So, it has to be closely monitored, and O’Brien instructs the staff to include the chalkboard as part of their regular rounds at the restaurant: check your tables, check the bathroom, check the chalkboard, check your tables again. It’s one more thing to do, but everyone has gotten used to it because they appreciate the novelty value of being the restaurant with the chalkboard. It’s good for business.
“I think it definitely helps us,” O’Brien said. “When people write on it, the first thing they’re doing is asking one of us to take a picture, or they’re taking a selfie, and right away it’s going on social media, and these are tourists from all over the country. It’s given us a lot of exposure to the country, really. People hear about it, and they want to come down.”
O’Brien said that’s one of her favorite parts about working at a restaurant: meeting people from all over the world: Russia, Germany, England, Australia, Italy, Canada, all over the United States.
Owner Ray Barshay said there are plans to add the restaurant's logo and the name of the city permanently to the chalkboard, to encourage people to take pictures and send them to friends.
Artists have also come to draw on the chalkboard, sometimes spending all morning working on an image, even though they know it won’t last long before it’s washed away. And the next day, someone else will have gotten married or engaged, or someone else will have had a birthday and will stop at the Funky Pelican to tell the world.
What’s allowed on the board?
Pretty much anything is allowed on the Funky Pelican chalkboard, but no profanity or advertising of any form — and that includes a social media handle. You can’t say, “Follow me on Snapchat at … ” because that’s considered advertising.
Also, you can’t write anything political. Nothing offensive.
How did it begin?
When the building was being renovated before the Funky Pelican opened, the front walls facing the sidewalk were covered with construction material called Peel and Stick paper. The texture of the paper was such that you could write on it with a pebble, and the marks would remain.
“One person put something up there, and then everybody was doing it,” said Erin O’Brien, the restaurant’s general manager. “People would write on it, ‘RIP Steve,’ or “Happy birthday.’”
Rather than try to stop people from doing it, they decided to encourage it. They got special permission from the city of Flagler Beach for a public chalkboard and have been maintaining it ever since.
What kind of music is played at the Funky Pelican?
On a given day at the Funky Pelican, you might hear Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That means you’re on the Rolling Stones station on Pandora.
The staff picks the music based on who’s in the restaurant. If they see a group of people who they think would think that Led Zeppelin would be a bit too raucous, they’ll turn on some Motown instead.
So, if you’re wondering how hip you are, just listen to the music at the Funky Pelican and you’ll know.
The two other restaurants
Did you know the owner of the Funky Pelican — Ray Barshay — also owns the River Grille and Crabby Joe’s? Barshay's co-owner of the Funky Pelican is Ford Menard.
Barshay said he tries to make sure all three of the restaurants are more of an experience, and not just a meal. "I try to make them interesting and unique, so there's more to them than just some drywall and some paint," he said.
The River Grille is located at 950 N. U.S. 1, Ormond Beach. It’s open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The bar is called Three Toed Pete’s.
Crabby Joe’s is located at 3701 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach. Call 756-4219. Barshay added that Richard Petty sometimes eats there on his birthday.