Fran’s Chocolates has been a Northwest institution since 1982, and visionary chocolatier Fran Bigelow has been credited with the artisan chocolate boom in the United States. Fran’s sets a very high standard for every ingredient they use as well as the finished product, so it’s no surprise they also had high expectations for their new facility. They needed precise environmental control, aesthetics worthy of their award-winning confections, and the highest possible degree of sustainability. They chose to locate their new facility into the original Rainier Brewery building, which had been abandoned for decades. They loved the Georgetown community, and the historic brick building.

We like a good challenge, and we love their chocolates, so we were thrilled when Fran’s asked us to be the mechanical engineer for the project. And we were equally thrilled at the success of the LEED Platinum project.

Fran’s is famous for their chocolate-covered salted caramels, which were even a favorite in the Obama White House. Caramel is a finicky substance, requiring precise temperature and humidity controls for the tempering process. As Fran’s learned in their old space, without precise environmental control, a change in the weather can cause an unplanned temperature swing and ruin an entire batch of caramel. So our challenge was to create a precisely controllable environment in a historic building with 25’ ceilings on a limited budget, and with close attention to sustainability. The building’s location, next to a freeway and an industrial area, required filters to prevent odors and particulates from entering the building. We designed a clean, odor-free, and precisely-controlled work space that allow Fran’s chocolatiers to create, smell, and taste each batch of chocolate and caramel to ensure it meets the company’s exacting quality standards. 

To bring ventilation from the ceiling-mounted ductwork down 25 feet to the factory floor, our design included stratification fans to blow air down into the space below. This preserved the historical feel of the building, an important aesthetic requirement, while providing the airflow and temperature control needed to meet Fran’s functional needs. 

We made a significant contribution to the project’s LEED Platinum certification with plumbing systems and high-efficiency fixtures earning LEED Water Efficiency points. We designed the HVAC system with highly efficient variable refrigerant flow systems, and a cost-effective standard VAV system. This project received the ACEC Washington Engineering Excellence Silver Award for “Future Value to Engineering Profession & Public Perception.”

While you’re thinking of chocolate, you can read about how we helped the students at the NW Wine Academy at South Seattle College create great wines to pair with it.