Both buildings have a long history in downtown St. Louis, and the architecture to match. But they’ve also been transformed into modern event spaces that are frequently sought after by couples, corporate planners, and anyone who wants to hold an event to remember.
We spoke to Casey O’Brien, Director of Events for both venues and veteran of more than 100 events, about what it’s like to work for the team, how they approach event management, and the origin story of The Caramel Room, Lumen, and their catering business, 23 City Blocks.
Tell us about the history of The Caramel Room at Bissinger’s, Lumen, and 23 City Blocks Catering. How did each of them start?
The Caramel Room was our first venture, an opportunity that came about when a historic chocolate company, Bissinger’s, was moving into a new location in downtown St. Louis and had an unplanned fourth floor just waiting to be turned into something incredible. While designing and building The Caramel Room, Lumen’s previous ownership had decided to move on to other projects. Our managing partners had experience with the architecturally stunning venue, and we decided to add it to our arsenal.
Now our two private event spaces are situated just 23 city blocks apart from each other, hence the name of our catering company, because we are clever like that. It wasn’t until a year or so in that we took the jump into off-property catering, mainly at the repeated request of our clients.
From there, we’ve continued to expand, including opening our first restaurant this past fall. We do food and beverage a bit differently than most, and the growth that we’ve seen goes to show that there isn’t a substitute for originality and passion.
Why did your team start using Tripleseat to manage its events?
In comparing Tripleseat to other systems, we really liked the streamlined process that it offers. Having everything on a web-based portal was important, and its visual appearance is clean, concise, and user- friendly. To be candid, we hit the ground running extremely hard when our venues opened, which left little time to really engage with all the features. The past six months, our team has been diving in, learning and working to fully utilize the capabilities that Tripleseat has to offer. From this, I can also say the customer service is second to none. The tutorials, Tripleseat University, and the chat availability have all been instrumental in getting us up to speed. From that, the increase of efficiency and communication that our entire company has seen is remarkable.
How many events do you manage every year between the venues?
This past year, we produced just over 500 events. Shout out to the reporting capabilities for that stat!
What types of events do you host?
You name it, we probably do it. We’ve done everything from weddings under tents in the middle-of-nowhere fields, to themed corporate bashes on our own turf. We’ve done intimate anniversary dinners for two and holiday celebrations for 600. We have a passion for food, beverage, and service, so if it involves those three things, we are usually on board for whatever may be thrown at us.
What Tripleseat features have made event management easier for your team?
Honestly, it’s hard to narrow down what the most beneficial aspects are. I’d say the two components we couldn’t live without are the ability to create automatic tasks and the in-system staff discussion. Having a to-do list generated as soon as you convert an event from tentative to definite or an immediate notification sent to pertinent parties when there is a short-term booking enables us to always be ahead of the curve.
What would you do if Tripleseat was taken away from you?
At the risk of sounding dramatic, we wouldn’t be able to function. In any hospitality group, sales relies on operations, who relies on culinary, who relies on sales. It’s a never-ending wheel. Tripleseat is one of the main cogs of that wheel enabling us to be successful.
Why do customers choose your venues and catering? What makes you stand out?
23 City Blocks is different. We have a restaurant-style approach where we’ve prepped ahead of time, but cooking is done on-site no matter where that may be, where entrees aren’t fired until the first course is on the floor, where our standard of synchronized service gets everyone at the table their meal at the same time. We source as locally as we can and work within the season as much as a client allows.
For the client, it means higher quality food and exceptional service, while for us truthfully, it allows our team to fully embrace our passions, which is why we’re in this crazy event world in the first place. Our approach to teamwork, our dedication to the highest quality ingredients, our amiable service staff, and our ability to connect a culinary experience to all five senses sets us apart from our competitors within the industry.
What kind of experience does your team provide for your events?
I think one of the attributes that our clients are most surprised by is our flexibility. Of course, there are always going to be those times where we have to say, no you cannot bring a baby elephant upstairs to the rooftop (true story!), but this no is always going to be accompanied with an alternate suggestion and solution.
Our willingness to work with our clients, whether that be on a unique style of service that we haven’t done before like Churrascaria, or having your grandmother come in the kitchen to make sure we are getting the curry spices to her liking, or executing a meal that you didn’t think was possible on your limited budget but your guests continue to rave about long after your event, are the repeated praises that we receive. Honestly, the culinary and service experience we produce are unparalleled, but what it really boils down to is that our people care and care a lot about our clients, so we are willing to do whatever we can to ensure your event is like nothing else.
What is your formula for a successful wedding?
Passion. Every single member of our team throws their whole self into a wedding, treating it as if it was our own. From our event managers who go far above and beyond the scope of their work, to our culinary team who crafts a menu tailored to the couple’s specific requests, to our service staff who wear a smile not because they have to but because they are happy to play a role in someone’s significant day.
If you look at photos on your website and social media, it seems like just about every wedding couple has a gorgeous portrait in front of the Bissinger’s sign! How did the Bissinger’s sign become such an icon for wedding photos at The Caramel Room?
Completely and utterly by accident! We hosted back-to-back grand openings for our building — one more corporate-focused and the other more wedding industry-focused, though both totaling around 500 guests each. Two days later, we hosted our first wedding. Our team was on such a high about what we had achieved, and it was actually Amanda Bradham-Little, our Vice President of Marketing, who suggested the couple go out on the rooftop to capture the moment, kind of like a mark to show the world that we had arrived. Since then, it’s been a sought after keepsake for couples and a dream shot for photographers alike.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Tripleseat’s Seated magazine, 2019 Spring/Summer issue.