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Home | Closed-Cell Foam | The Topping on a Historic Candy Factory

The Topping on a Historic Candy Factory

Chocolate and spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is not a readily associated combination. But for Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatiers in St. Louis, Missouri, SPF provided the perfect solution to their sticky,roofing dilemma.

The Bissinger family has been making confections since at least 1668, when King Louis XIV of France granted them the title, “Confiseur Imperial”(“Confectioner of the Empire”), due to their excellence in candy-making art. According to company archives, Napoleon Bonaparte was said to crave their chocolate.

In 1845, the family emigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, and began practicing their confectionary magic on American shores. In 1927, 82 years later, they relocated to St. Louis, maintaining and further growing a devoted fanbase that included Lauren Bacall, who had such love for their chocolates that she even became their spokesperson in 1995.

With such a celebrated history and ardent following, Bissinger’s refuses to give in to the wholesale idea of mass production. Although their chocolates may no longer be individually hand-dipped, their factory is relatively small, allowing them to retain control over the process and the product, a product with a recipe still copied from the family’s recipe book dating from the 1800s. By 2013, however, after 80-some years in the same location, it was time for an upgrade.

In keeping with Bissinger’s long history of, well, history, the company settled on a new building that itself had a historic past.


Built in 1910 and featured on the National Register of Historic Places as part of St. Louis’North Broadway Wholesale and Warehouse District, the building that Bissinger’s purchased to be their new state-of-the-art factory had seen a previous life as the freight depot for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.

Situated at the foot of St. Louis’ famed Stan Musial Memorial Veterans Bridge, Bissingers’newly acquired building provides a great location and a history to match the unique backstory of its new owners. In addition to being the depot for the great “Katy” Railroad, the 220,000 square foot, four-story building had also been home to the Switzer Licorice Factory. In the meantime,however, it had fallen on hard times and would require more than a dusting of sugar to make it complete.

The building’s first floor features 24-foot high ceilings – an open space perfect for a kitchen and production areas. Designs converted the second floor into offices. The third floor and the roof deck, with sweeping views of the St. Louis skyline, form the perfect venue for special events.

When open for bid, the job was won by R&A Contracting, a local St. Louis contracting firm specializing in roofing and air barrier systems. Founded in St. Louis over 25 years ago, R&A’s crew was proud to work on a project with such civic importance and for a client with long ties to the community. And, in this case, to call the partnership “sweet,” would not be stretching the metaphor.

The initial scope of work encompassed the interior production space. As Mark “Bubba” Anderson, R&A’s Operations Manager recounts,“Bissinger’s needed a production space that could be kept at constant temperature and humidity to be able to produce their chocolates. And then the foam needed to be coated with a fire retardant coating that was FDA-approved for use around food products. The time-frame for the job, from start-to-finish, was to be three months.” [NOTE: See a future issue of Spray Foam Magazine for the details of the air barrier installation.]

However, as with most jobs, this one came with a plot twist. In the midst of the air barrier application, Mother Nature decided that she wanted to “watch.”


“We were about a quarter of the way through the building’s interior,” Anderson says, “when we heard reports that a spring storm was coming.” Working indoors and using heated hoses and temperature controls, the R&A crew didn’t really think about the approaching weather.

“We were up in aerial lifts, spraying foam and coatings onto the walls and on the wood and black iron beams on the ceiling,” he continues. The fact that some of those beams were part of the historic “turnbuckles” used to move railcars when the building was a depot was not lost on the crew. “It was really interesting to see the history up close and to help preserve it,” Anderson remembers. Then, the storm hit, pounding the building with bursts of high winds, torrential rain, and even hail.

“The storm tore back part of the roof and the rain caused approximately 60,000 square feet to start leaking,” says Anderson. It seems that the roof had been compromised in a previous storm and it was this loose section that gave way.

The R&A crew immediately stopped the air barrier installation and began to staunch the flow of water from the roof.

Anderson describes the scene: “We immediately performed an emergency roof repair using tarps and tar, using furring strips, buckets, and sandbags to secure the tarps.”

Then it came time for R&A to execute their next series of projects for Bissinger’s, albeit slightly out of the sequence they had originally envisioned. “We always planned on bidding the roof. This just moved the time-frame,” says Anderson.

He continues, “The roof deck is approximately 300,000 square feet,” says Anderson. “It encompassed several jobs for us – the first being sealing the leaks.”


Constructed of true 2 x 6 oak planks, and weathered in the elements under a thin layer of tar since 1910, the remaining roof substrate was, according to Anderson, “like iron it was so hard.”

Once the storm had passed, an R&A crew of 12 hit the roof – hard. While the crew rode up to the roof in the comfort of an elevator, all of the equipment and materials took a different route. R&A hired a crane to transport all their necessities on and off the roof, including the results of their demo work. In addition to hiring the crane, “we hired a roll-off company to dispose of the pieces that were removed,” says Anderson. “But first they were put in a small dumpster, which also had been craned onto the roof, and then craned back down once it was full.”

Once the debris had been removed, the R&A crew repaired holes in the roof with Quiet Brace recovery board. Using 15 fasteners per board, the crew fastened six-inch screws through three-inch metal anchor plates, into the recovery board, screwing the board into the wooden roof.

Then, they suited up in Tyveks, with the sprayers donning full-face respirators and non-sprayers wearing regular masks. A six-foot parapet wall eliminated the need for harnesses, but “we used flags to be aware of when we were approaching the edge,” says Anderson.

Safely suited, the crew used a Gusmer H20/35 hydraulic proportioner, a Gusmer H-2000 proportioner, and a Graco 56-1 King Sprayer to spray-apply two-inches of Lapolla’s Foam-Lok 3lb. closed-cell SPF onto the repaired section of roof. Creating a monolithic membrane on top of the roof ’s wooden substrate, the Foam-Lok’s excellent bonding properties sealed the roof and mitigated wind uplift – very real concerns for the owners of a factory that had just had unintentional “skylights” installed by Mother Nature.

The Foam-Lok was top coated with Lapolla’s Thermo-Flex™1000 acrylic elastomeric coating. Anderson says, “We spray-applied the Thermo-Flex 1000 to a thickness of 30 mils in two passes, a topcoat and a basecoat.”

Even with 12 crewmembers working full shifts, the damage was so extensive that the repair took approximately two weeks to complete. That project, however, was not the end of R&A’s adventures on this historic roof.


The building features three stories, but is described as having four because there is an upper section of roof that, although not accessible to the public, needed attention. There is also a party deck. And protrusions. A plethora of protrusions – for the vents and blowers from the kitchen, for the air conditioning units, for signage. The roof bristles with protrusions.

“The building sits right next to the Stan Musial Bridge, which sees a lot of traffic, so Bissinger’s has installed a huge billboard sign on the roof,” explains Anderson. “In order for it to be structurally sound, it had to be tied into the structure, so holes had to be cut into the roof so that it could be attached.”

Each of these protrusions had to be sealed with Lapolla’s Foam-Lok™ SPF and top coated with Lapolla’s Thermo-Flex 1000. The work was quick and performed as needed. Anderson estimates that it added up to about 10,000 square feet of work – six or so protrusions at a time. “They would call us and say, ‘We’ve installed three vents, they’re ready to be flashed in.’ We would go, do the work, and then wait for the next call. We were working around the weather and other trades.”

The most time-consuming portion of this project was the deck. “We foamed under the iron and then another contractor came in and performed the install. Then, we had to come back in, lie on the foam, and coat everything. The roof has a slight pitch, but the deck is level, so at the bottom we had a clearance of four to five feet. At the top? We had a 10-inch clearance. It was rough. We had to lie on our stomachs. We bought a wand to reach up and spray under the deck to spray the topcoat,” states Anderson.

As if that weren’t challenging enough, it was soon discovered that the foam had been damaged during the deck installation.

“The installing contractor damaged the foam. The roof sprung a leak. We had to come back out, remove the damaged foam, and recoat. We had to crawl under the deck and use power washers – while lying on our stomachs – on an inclining roof. The guys were lying in water the whole day. But we have such a good crew. They just got in there and got it done.” The first install took three days. The remediation took a week.


The party deck is now in use and it is the location for many special events, as is The Caramel Room, a space that is used as a venue for high-end gatherings. The upper roof section, or the fourth story, covers the Caramel Room. At the time of the initial storm damage, the asphalt-covered Built-Up-Roof (BUR) was in good shape, or so it seemed.

“The upper roof looked good at the time of the big storm, so it was left alone. The Caramel Room had been outfitted with hardwood floors, crystal chandeliers, top-quality fittings, the works,” says Anderson. “And then, we got another heavy rain, and the upper roof leaked. And so, we got the upper roof project sooner than anticipated – which was fine.”

The approximate 100,000 square-foot upper roof deck was powerwashed clean and then the R&A crew spray-applied the two-inches of Lapolla’s Foam-Lok™ SPF and top coated with 30 mils of Lapolla’s Thermo-Flex 1000.

“As a finishing detail for each job like this, we run metal around the wall edges. We bring the foam up to the metal, clean it off with a knife, and then seal with Tremco’s Vulkem™ urethane caulk,” Anderson explains. Applied with a caulking gun,the caulk is UV-stable and does not need to be coated. “It just gives the jobs a nice polish.” Or, in this case, the sugar sprinkles on top of a piece of chocolate.

Working with the full crew, the upper roof deck took approximately three weeks to rehab.

And, even with all this work, there is still more yet to come. “We have bids in for approximately 150,000 square feet of work still to be accomplished on the roof,” says Anderson.

Just as history is a work in progress, it seems so too is this historic candy factory roof. There is every indication that the sweet partnership between two St. Louis companies dedicated to hard work and tradition will continue.

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