Article By Stacy Ross
Wearing personalized aprons, guests at a recent corporate event at Bissinger’s Caramel Room got a little taste of what’s involved in making the company’s famous truffles. Marble slab tables were brought up from the factory below and, with help from the head chocolatier, guests created their own ganache centers and “tempered” the chocolate (as explained by Caramel Room Sales Manager Casey O’Brien, “tempering” is the difficult process that makes the chocolate shiny and helps it set).
A venue with chocolate and a view
The event highlights just one of several factors that make the Caramel Room utterly unique and a top corporate meeting venue. Other draws include the stylish space elegantly dressed in warm, caramel-colored tones and incorporating aspects of the original 1912 factory. The padded bar brings to mind a chocolate candy bar. There’s also the restaurant-quality food created by the former owner and chef of Harvest restaurant, Nicholas Miller. And then there’s the 4,500-square-foot rooftop terrace with a view of downtown and the river.
As Sierra Thompson, who planned the 2017 ADDY Awards Gala in February for the American Advertising Federation of St. Louis (known as the Ad Club), explained: “The Caramel Room was both luxurious and industrial. The exquisite chandeliers paired with iron and bare brick was the perfect aesthetic backdrop to our St. Louis advertising industry’s party of the year.”
Still, it’s that “chocolate experience” that makes for the most memorable events, O’Brien added. Guests can indulge in a variety of activities such as making chocolate bars, dipping candy centers in molten chocolate, and listening to chocolatiers talk about the chocolate-making process. In addition, truffle-making is new this year, O’Brien said, and because the process is more complicated, it’s limited to groups of 50 or fewer.
A recent example of the full “chocolate experience” involved a group of truffle-makers – 25 members of Explore St. Louis’ National Customer Advisory Board – who dined on a three-course meal with chocolate incorporated into each course. They then listened to a talk about the historic building while sipping the Caramel Room’s signature chocolate cocktail.
Explore St. Louis Vice President of Sales John Bettag is always looking for new and different experiences to show off St. Louis and provide board members with a chance to relax and have fun after a long day of meetings.
“We like that the venue is historic and unique to St. Louis with great views of the ‘Stan Span’ from the rooftop deck,” Bettag said. “The Caramel Room was a perfect fit for our event with its prime location downtown close to where our guests were staying.”
The Caramel Room opened in October of 2014 in what was originally a railroad office-the tracks still run through the parking lot. It takes up the fourth floor of Bissinger’s headquarters and chocolate factory at 1600 North Broadway. The building also houses the offices of 23 City Blocks, Bissinger’s sister company, which operates the Caramel Room. In addition to the Caramel Room, 23 City Blocks offers other options for event planners including catering by 23 City Blocks and a smaller event space 23 blocks away on Locust called Lumen.
“We are a full service company,” said Amanda Bradham-Little, vice president of marketing for 23 City Blocks. “If we’re booked, we can take the show on the road. We can bring it to your office, an open house, [or a] cocktail party.”
It’s not just for dessert anymore
The quality of the food is something that also sets the Caramel Room apart, Bradham-Little said, calling it, “Probably the best culinary experience you’ll have at an event in St. Louis.” She credits Nicholas Miller, the former owner and chef at Harvest restaurant. Miller’s creations emphasize seasonal produce from local farms with a little chocolate thrown in when you least expect it, Bradham-Little said.
“A lot of people have banquet chefs, [but] we wanted that restaurant experience,” she said. “When it comes out, it’s hot and fresh. When you have a steak, it’s properly medium rare.”
As you might imagine, chocolate is not just for dessert at the Caramel Room. For example, Miller created a chocolate vinaigrette for the Caramel Room salad and a corn dog with white chocolate mustard. For Sherwood Forest’s annual fundraiser, Miller concocted a chicken waffle appetizer drizzled with chocolate.
The Ad Club’s Thompson was pleased that Miller was able to accommodate their “more fun and casual appetites” for their gala, with taco, slider, and chip-and-dip stations. “The heavy appetizers and beverages were exactly what we had hoped for,” she said. The 2017 event was the Ad Club’s first at the Caramel Room, Thompson said, but she hopes to be back. Bradham-Little said the venue hosts about a half-dozen corporate events each month from breakfasts, lunches and food stations, to cocktail parties, dinners and tasting events.
“If someone says ‘I just want to rent the space for a theatre-style presentation,’ people are in, then they’re out. You can do that too,” she said.
The St. Louis Cardinals, Wells Fargo Advisors, Barry Wehmiller and the region’s top law firms have all held events at the Caramel Room, Bradham-Little said. Nonprofits including Craft Alliance, the American Red Cross, and Make-A-Wish
Foundation have also hosted events there.
Prices are based on food and beverage minimums with no extra charge for the facility rental. Minimums range from $5,000
for Monday-Thursday bookings to $25,000 on Saturday. The extensive audio-visual system, a wide variety of background and dinner music, and a large selection of tables and chairs are also included in the cost. The free parking has 24-hour security.
“If a guest needs to leave their car overnight and tale Uber home, that’s fine,” Bradham-Little said.
The combined space of the Caramel Room can hold up to550, while the bar or terrace can be set up in more intimate configurations for groups as small as 25. Furniture can be removed entirely for silent auctions.
“The space allowed us to subtly divide different aspects of the event-the gallery space, cocktail hour, and of course, the award ceremony,” Thompson said. “Within the ceremony space we were able to place a large stage in the middle allowing everyone in the audience to have an optimal view.” Following the award ceremony, many in the crowd gravitated to the terrace for an after-party, she added.
Matt Barker, the annual giving manager for Sherwood Forest, a summer camp for disadvantaged children, raved along with Thompson about the customer service they received from the Caramel Room staff.
“The service and support that we received from our event manager was absolutely superb,” Thompson said, while Barker said his experience was “Fantastic.” Bradham-Little said the key is their five experienced event managers who act as partners with their clients. “If you’re not a planner and it’s your first time, we have five people who have knowledge who can help,” she said. “We love to plan. For us it’s a lot of fun.”
O’Brien suggests corporate planners take advantage of the event managers’ experience and leave some room for creativity.
“Allow the event manager to offer those tweaks and suggestions,” O’Brien said. “We can add menu ideas, [or] chocolate experiences that will really make your event even more memorable.”
In the end it’s the entire experience that makes the Caramel Room memorable. “We have clients who come back year after year,” Bradham-Little said. That’s got to be a testament for something.”
Stacy Ross is a contributing writer from St. Louis, MO.
The Caramel Room
1600 North Broadway
St. Louis, MO 63102
Lumen Private Event Space
2201 Locust Street, St. Louis, MO 63103