Story by Lauren Sauer

Photos by Mackenzie Gardner & Lauren Sauer

Sarah Hade, who graduated from JMU with a degree in graphic design, stands with one of her signs outside of Bella Luna.

“Smooth. Juicy. Tactile.” These are some words that might come to mind when asked to describe a citrus fruit. For Sarah Hade, this trifecta is how she classifies her design style. “I want to be able to pick up my letters and squeeze them,” she said. Hade’s growing repertoire of hand-lettered functional art in the form of menus and sandwich boards started at downtown Harrisonburg’s Bella Luna Wood-Fired Pizza, where she worked as a server while completing her degree in graphic design from JMU. Her signature style has caught the eye of locals and visitors alike, as she’s lent her hand to multiple storefronts. Most notably, Bella Luna’s sister restaurant, Bella Gelato, where she was an integral part in developing a friendly and familiar environment.

“I think by the sheer quantity of boards I’ve done for Bella Luna and Bella Gelato, it has definitely shaped their aesthetic as a business,” Hade said. “I like to think of it as a healthy symbiotic relationship. I started my exploration into the type world when I was first asked to do the chalkboard signs.” A large part of this symbiotic relationship Hade describes has resulted in a noticeable beautification of downtown Harrisonburg. Hade’s work has driven traffic into restaurants and shops, championing and empowering the small businesses many have come to love. Her work is not only an asset to communicate promotions and offerings, but a way to start conversation and develop a unique brand image. “Whether people realize it or not, they are sensitive to the organic. A hand drawn sign offers personality, which reflects positively on the business,” Hade said.

As JMU international student Tahli Moore of Sydney, Australia, notes that it makes the normally mundane experience of ordering more exciting. “My favorite sign is at Bella Gelato, illustrating their different types of coffee,” Moore said. “It makes it easy to understand what you’re getting and adds a creative touch.” This furthers the original mission of Bella Luna and Bella Gelato owner, Wade Luhn. It was important to him to offer a restaurant experience that closely resembled that of The Friendly City: warm, comfortable and conversational.

Now the two establishments serve as meeting grounds for families and friends to connect in what feels like an extension of their own homes. “I took my mom to Bella Luna for dinner when she came to visit from Sydney,” Moore said. “After she came all the way over here, I wanted to take her some place that really screamed ‘Harrisonburg’ … the attention to detail in the menus and chalkboards is a huge part of it.” For Hade, graduation didn’t signify time to leave Harrisonburg, but rather an opportunity to become more immersed in the colorful downtown community. “I wouldn’t have become who I am today without it,” Hade said. “The competitiveness usually found in larger cities has been replaced by support and love.”

“It’s a source of never-ending inspiration to work my butt off and give something back.”