CUSTOM quality and tile craftsmanship showcased with five-foot porcelain planks

CUSTOM products are the icing on the cake at Porto’s Bakery and Café in LA

Porto’s Bakery and Café is a Los Angeles institution with a devoted following among food lovers of all backgrounds. Over 25,000 square feet of tile was installed in the eatery’s expansion to Buena Park. 

Porto’s Bakery and Café is a Los Angeles institution with a devoted following among food lovers of all backgrounds. In 2016, Porto’s took the number one spot on “Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S.” for their decadently delicious and visually stunning food. Despite the acclaim, the Porto family wanted to grow business slowly to maintain their standard of quality. When they finally decided to expand to Buena Park, in nearby Orange County, CUSTOM products were chosen to install 25,000 square feet of tile. 

The work was executed by Custom Pro Tile and Stone of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., contractors specializing in high-end natural stone installations. The company has been in the industry for over 20 years and has used CUSTOM products during the entire time. This installation materials tradition includes the company’s meticulous tile work at the Porto’s location in West Covina, Calif. 

“We have used Custom Building Products for many years,” said Marco Emmert, Vice President of Custom Pro. “They are reliable, consistent, give great performance and the warranty that the company offers is the best in the market.”

A warm welcome is offered by the old world wood-look planks, deli-style mosaics and sunshine streaming through the windows.
The biggest challenge on the project was literally the 10”x59” porcelain planks that were set in striking herringbone and starburst patterns.

Hardworking tile assemblies

With a total of four service counters and lines of patrons often lining up all the way out the doors and down the block, the floor at Porto’s Bakery and Café needed hard-working, great looking flooring assemblies. A lot of the restaurant’s personality comes from the extensive use of tile large and small. The entire space is ultimately designed to showcase all of the artistically crafted food on display in the bakery. A warm welcome is offered by the old world wood-look planks, deli-style mosaics and sunshine streaming through the windows.

The biggest challenge on the project was literally the 10” x 59” porcelain planks that were set in striking herringbone and starburst patterns. This over-sized tile was set throughout the public spaces as well as the company’s offices and employee facilities on the second floor and even on the stairs. 

The initial layout took a couple of days to trace chalk lines and take levels. Fortunately, the concrete slab at the site was finished to perfection and did not require additional leveling to meet the flatness standard for large-format tile. Cutting the planks for all of the different configurations was intricate work and had to be done on a wet saw. Of course, setting such large tiles takes more time and skill than an equal square footage of smaller tiles. Exacting planning and very experienced installers allowed the tile contractors to deliver a flat, robust tiled surface.

CUSTOM’s VersaBond LFT Professional Large Format Tile Mortar was the product of choice to set the 5’ planks. 

Custom Pro’s partner in setting the 5’ planks was VersaBond®– LFT Professional Large Format Tile Mortar. VersaBond LFT is polymer-modified and designed for use with large-format and heavy porcelain, ceramic and natural stone tiles. With a non-slumping formula to help eliminate lippage, this mortar can be applied up to 3/4” thick on horizontal applications and exceeds ANSI A118.4 and A118.11.

“Ever since VersaBond LFT came out on the market, we have used it on a lot of our projects,” offered Emmert. “It is a great mortar for the large-format tiles, non-slumping and dense.”

In addition to using a mortar designed for bigger materials like the planks, installers employed the large-format tile setting methods shown in the well-known NTCA “Trowel & Error” training video. These techniques include keying a burn coat into the substrate, combing mortar in straight lines across the short side of the tile and back buttering. Once the tile is bedded, it is moved back and forth across the ridges to collapse them and release air, which can otherwise create voids and eventually cracks in the tile. View the video here: https://www.custombuildingproducts.com/reference-library/videos/trowel-and-error.aspx

A variety of both traditional and modern tile was installed on walls throughout the restaurant and also in the back of the house. These included quarry tile in the kitchen and glazed ceramics and porcelains of various sizes. ProLite® Premium Large Format Tile Mortar was used for these materials due to its outstanding performance on walls. ProLite offers a high bond strength and thixotropic performance to prevent sagging on vertical installations. 

Both traditional and modern tile was installed on walls throughout the restaurant and also in the back of the house, including quarry tile in the kitchen and glazed ceramics and porcelains of various sizes.

A side of grout

To meet the varying service conditions at the site, a total of four different CUSTOM grouts was employed. Most of the floor and wall tiles, from the highly textured wood-look planks to the deli-style mosaic mats, were grouted with PolyBlend® and Prism®. According to CUSTOM, polymer-modified PolyBlend is America’s Number One grout, and comes in sanded and non-sanded options, producing hard, dense joints that resist cracking and wear for extended durability. 

Prism Ultimate Performance Cement Grout is a calcium aluminate-based product that offers consistent color without mottling or shading and will not effloresce. Formulated with recycled content and fine aggregate sand, lightweight Prism delivers premium handling qualities and sets up rapidly for fast-track projects like hospitality and food service. 

Most of the floor and wall tiles, from the highly textured wood-look planks to the deli-style mosaic mats, were grouted with PolyBlend® and Prism®.
The glazed white tiles on kitchen walls were grouted with matching and contrasting Fusion Pro® Single Component® Grout.

“Prism was chosen primarily because of its color uniformity,” said Emmert. “We are substituting with or staying with Prism every chance we get.”

The glazed white tiles on kitchen walls were grouted with matching and contrasting Fusion Pro® Single Component® Grout. Fusion Pro is guaranteed stain proof and color perfect and helps to maintain a spick-and-span look where patrons can view bakers and decorators at their work. 

CEG®-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout was used for quarry tiles on the kitchen floors where a high degree of chemical resistance was required.

CEG®-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout was used for quarry tiles on the kitchen floors where a high degree of chemical resistance was required. 

ProLite, Prism and CEG-Lite are all Build Green® products featuring CustomLite® Technology, meet GreenGuard® Gold requirements and contribute to LEED certification. 

The Porto’s story

This popular family-owned restaurant features traditional, homemade-style Cuban pastries, breakfasts, sandwiches and treats. The recipes originated with Rosa Porto in her own kitchen, and moved to the first shop in 1965. Today they ship nationwide to bake at home. 

Porto’s now has five locations in the Los Angeles metro area, including Buena Park down the street from the world famous Knott’s Berry Farm theme park. They are still rated by customers at 4.7 out of 5 on Yelp. 


HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – April 22, 2020 – Custom® Building Products recently secured GREENGUARD Gold Certification, which includes California Department of Public Health compliance, for most of its flooring surface preparation, setting and grouting materials. CUSTOM® products with this designation are deemed acceptable for schools, healthcare facilities and similar environments with children, elderly and others sensitive to poor air quality caused by high emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Part of the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Environment, GREENGUARD Certification helps manufacturers develop and produce interior building materials with low VOCs. All certified CUSTOM products meet stringent emissions standards based on established chemical exposure criteria and contribute to U.S. Green Building Council LEED 4 credits under Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Widely recognized by sustainable building programs and building codes around the world, GREENGUARD Certification’s mission is to promote global sustainability, environmental health, and safety.

“Earning this certification is the latest example of our commitment to providing the most comprehensive line of environmentally-friendly products on the market,” said Reeve Haldeman, Corporate Vice President of Marketing and Retail Sales for Custom Building Products. “Whether it’s using recycled materials, manufacturing biodegradable products, refining the environmental impact of our plants or limiting the distance of deliveries, sustainability has always been and remains a priority at CUSTOM.”

For more information on the full line of CUSTOM tile and stone installation products, visit www.custombuildingproducts.com.       

Timeless natural stone showcases luxury retail with a full system from CUSTOM

Westfield Valley Fair is the highest sales volume shopping center in California – the state with the most space dedicated to retail. Over the course of three years, $1.1B was spent to renovate this property in the heart of Silicon Valley, and expand the mall from 1.5M to 2.2M total square feet. Already a highly popular tourist attraction, the upscale center added 150 new stores with a focus on luxury brands. This extensive enhancement included installing 360,000 sq. ft. of natural stone, porcelain and glass tile with a full system from Custom Building Products. 

The objective for Valley Fair was “contemporary yet timeless,” which is the very essence of designing with natural stone. Over 240,000 sq. ft. of limestone, marble and sandstone were imported from Italian and Tunisian quarries in 90 full-sized shipping containers. Most of the stone was fabricated into honed 24” equilateral triangles and laid out in solid color, full-diamond and diamond bleed-out patterns that add tremendous sophistication to the site. 

Northern California Tile and Stone (NCTS), an NTCA Five-Star Contractor based in Sacramento, Calif., performed the work on both the renovation and expansion phases of the project. Performing demolition work, preparing the surface and setting pavers while the center remained open for business required tightly coordinated night work. To meet the aggressive schedule and minimize the impact on shoppers, a high-performance, rapid-setting system of tile installation products was chosen. 

Surface preparation

After removing existing tile, the slab was lightly shot-blasted to ICRI Concrete Surface Profile 3. This opened up the concrete to provide a clean surface for bonding an underlayment to bring the floor within tolerances for large-format stone tile. The low-prep CustomTech® flooring preparation products selected for the project do not always require this step, but given the age and condition of the slab, shot blasting was recommended to ensure the best bond to the substrate. TechPrime™ A Advanced Acrylic Primer was diluted 3:1 with three parts water and applied with a soft-bristle push broom to help drive the mixture into the substrate. This highly versatile primer and sealer can be used to prepare both porous and non-porous substrates for leveling. 

TechLevel 150 Self-Leveling Underlayment was pumped throughout the project to achieve a truly flat floor.

A smoothing tool is used to take TechLevel 150 Self-Leveling Underlayment to a feather edge at low spots in the slab.

After the primer dried, TechLevel™ 150 Premium Calcium Aluminate Based Self-Leveling Underlayment was poured to an average depth of 1/4”. High flow TechLevel 150 was pumped over the extensive concourses but also barrel mixed in the smaller areas as the prep work drew to a close. This super-fluid leveler can be batch mixed or inline mixed to scale for jobs of all sizes and the leveling work was self-performed by installers from NCTS. With a compressive strength greater than 4300 psi, TechLevel 150 is suitable for most projects and can be poured up to 1.5” per lift while resisting cracking. 

“We had great feedback from installers that had used other leveling products,” offered Erik Johnson, Project Superintendent with NCTS. “TechLevel 150 was a big factor in the successful outcome of the whole project. The tolerances were tighter, and we were not fighting substrate differences or seeing lippage.” 

To protect the natural stone on the mall’s busy concourses, RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane was specified throughout the project. RedGard controls in-plane crack transmission up to 1/8” in tile and stone floors and exceeds the requirements of ANSI A118.12 for crack isolation. This ready-to-use elastomeric membrane was primarily applied with an airless spray rig due to the immense size of the shopping center. A thickness of 40 wet mils of RedGard was achieved with two coats and subjected to quality control inspections with digital calipers. RedGard was also used in the new and renovated restrooms to provide waterproofing protection exceeding ANSI A118.10.  

Tile installation 

Both the renovated and new areas of the mall were set with 24” marble and limestone triangle pavers as well as 18” sandstone. All of the large-format stone on floors was set with Complete Contact-LFT Premium Rapid Setting Large Format Tile Mortar. This polymer-modified full contact mortar is especially designed for installing large and heavy materials on floors where it can eliminate back buttering with improved mortar transfer. Complete Contact is quite fluid to help wet out the back of the tile, yet holds ridges to support large pavers and the deeper notch trowels needed to install them. Crucial to fast-track renovations like Valley Fair, tile can be grouted in two hours and light foot traffic can be allowed in as little as four hours. High-performance Complete Contact-LFT also exceeds ANSI A118.15F for demanding, heavy duty applications like the mall. 

Complete Contact-LFT Mortar allowed installers to meet the minimum 95% coverage required for natural stone.

Directional troweling and SuperiorBilt Premium Notch trowels helped prevent voids beneath the tile.

The NCTS installers on the project employed back buttering and then lifted each tile to ensure the 95% minimum mortar coverage rate needed with natural stone. They used SuperiorBilt® Premium Notch trowels that are designed to promote ridge collapse and mortar transfer. Crew members were impressed by the strength of the SuperiorBilt margin trowel’s weld points, which held up over months of lifting the heavy, fully embedded stone.

“We had a quality end product and a minimal punch list because of good coverage with the right product, the right trowels and proper technique,” said Eric Witcher, General Manager of NCTS. “This was huge!”

Installing both glass mosaics and 12” x 24” porcelain tile on walls called for a versatile, high-performance, polymer-modified mortar. ProLite® Premium Large Format Tile Mortar was specified for both of these hard-to-bond-to materials in vertical assemblies that were installed in restrooms and accent areas off the main concourses. ProLite offers high bond strength in a lightweight formula with excellent handling characteristics. 40% lighter than traditional mortars, ProLite will not sag on walls or slump on floors, and exceeds ANSI A118.15TE for thixotropic performance and extended open time for adjustment.  

“We love ProLite!,” said Witcher. “It is so versatile – just a great product.” 


Nearly all the tile on the project was grouted with Prism® Ultimate Performance Cement Grout.  Prism’s calcium aluminate-based formula delivers consistent color without mottling or shading and it will not contribute to efflorescence. Recycled content and fine aggregate sand provide a smooth consistency that is easy to clean as well as 30% lighter than other grouts. With high early strength and dense, stain-resistant joints, Prism was the perfect choice for Valley Fair’s rapid-setting requirements.  

Prism Ultimate Performance Grout was installed on walls as well as high-traffic floors in all concourses.

“I have used a lot of grout in my lifetime and Prism is awesome stuff!” offered Johnson. “We had great production rates because it is so easy to use and the rich color was completely consistent throughout.”  

“We had no issues due to traffic,” added Witcher. “Any other product would have been damaged; I was shocked to see how well it held up.” 

Soft movement joints at perimeters and intervals in the field were placed and filled with permanently flexible sealant per TCNA Detail EJ171.

Prior to grouting, the honed – and therefore more porous – natural stone pavers were sealed with Aqua Mix® Sealer’s Choice® Gold. Sealer’s Choice is a premium, natural look, water-based penetrating sealer that provides maximum stain protection while allowing moisture vapor transmission. After curing, the Prism cement grout was also sealed. For added chemical resistance due to cleaning regimens, restroom floors were grouted with CEG™-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout. 

TCNA guidelines were carefully adhered to throughout the project, including Detail EJ171. In accordance with EJ171, movement joints were placed every 20 feet on ground and every 12 feet on suspended slabs. Soft joints were included at all perimeters and changes of plane, with additional accommodation made for tile exposed to sunlight. Joints were filled with Commercial 100% Silicone Sealant, which remains permanently flexible to protect tile and grout in the assembly from expected movement. “The silicone was an excellent color match to the grout,” said Johnson. “It is hard to see the movement joints – just as it should be.”

24” equilateral triangles of marble and limestone were set in full diamond and diamond bleed patterns.

With a full system of surface preparation, tile-setting, grout and care products from CUSTOM, Westfield Valley Fair qualified for a 20-year installation warranty. 

“Custom’s technical rep invested a lot of time with our general contractor and our architect, and they utilized all of their assets and resources to help wherever needed,” said Witcher. 

“I’ve worked with Custom for 30 years,” added Johnson. “They show support and advocacy from beginning to end on every project.”

Six different natural stones featuring Italian marble were used to create the signature atrium mosaics.

Westfield Valley Fair is the perfect luxury showcase for designing with natural stone.

Marble tile at historic Hearst Castle pool renovated with full system from CUSTOM

The Roman-themed Neptune Pool was expanded three times between the 1920s to 1936, to hold 345,000 gallons of water.

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle is perhaps the most exciting and beautiful renovation project a tile and stone contractor could dream of. Located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean above San Simeon, Calif., this iconic marble pool was inspired by the stunning location, and rivals the extravagant architecture of the castle itself. When cracks and leaks in the 90-year old landmark required repairs and a complete replacement of the tile, a full system from Custom Building Products was selected to install the new stone work.

Originally designed by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst’s architect Julia Morgan in the 1920s, the Roman-themed Neptune Pool was expanded three times until it reached its current size in 1936. It now holds 345,000 gallons of water, measures 104 feet long by 58 feet to 95 feet across and reaches a depth of 10 feet. The pool is an engineering marvel, being suspended rather than sunken; this factor added an extra layer of complexity to shell and plumbing repair efforts at the site.

By 2014, the aging pool was leaking up to 5,000 gallons of water daily during a devastating drought. After draining the pool to prevent further leaks and assess damage, all original tile had to be removed to allow extensive repairs to the shell. A complete renovation was commissioned by California State Parks, which owns and maintains this expansive property. Following repairs to fill cracks and other imperfections, the application of a crystalline waterproofing solution and a successful 14-day fill test, tile installation began in earnest.

Stellar products and technical support: a winning combination

The natural stone tile work on this project was awarded to the third-generation marble craftsmen at Carnevale & Lohr, Inc., of Bell Gardens, Calif. Their union stone masons and tile setters are trained in time-tested and traditional hand-fitting methods, but also incorporate modern tile installation technology, standards and techniques. This way, the installers brought together the best of the old and new worlds of tile craftsmanship. 

“Custom’s products are excellent,” said David Carnevale, president of Carnevale & Lohr, “but this project also needed to be about the technical support, best warranty, and partnership of the installation products manufacturer. Custom offered their testing labs and all of their resources to us. That was something different, and it counted for so much!” 

Surface preparation was carried out by experienced union installers from subcontractor and NTCA member Charles McCandless Tile Contractor, Inc. of Santa Ana, Calif. To smooth the surface of the pool shell, workers spread Quikrete® Deck Mud fortified with CUSTOM Thin-Set and Mortar Admix at a depth of 1/4” up to 1” in places. This pre-blended leveling mortar is formulated for low shrinkage and saved the labor of powder-blending at the site, while the addition of polymers improved performance and flexural strength. After curing, a bond coat of thin-set mortar was used to prepare the shell for receiving a membrane. 

RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane was specified to help isolate cracks in the substrate and waterproof the surface preparation and mortar bed.

Three full strength coats of RedGard followed an initial primer coat for a total of 45 dry mils.

RedGard® Water-proofing and Crack Prevention Membrane was specified to help isolate cracks in the substrate and waterproof the surface preparation and mortar bed. A liquid-applied, elastomeric membrane was indicated due to the size of the project and the rounded surfaces throughout. The membrane was roller applied for the best control of wet mil thickness to exceed the requirements of ANSI A118.10 and A118.12. Three full strength coats of RedGard followed an initial primer coat for a total of 45 dry mils. After curing, each successive coat was applied at a right angle to the previous one to provide the highest level of protection. 

“With RedGard, the ease of application and not having any seams is a huge plus,” offered Mark McCandless, president of McCandless Tile. “On top of that, the team at Custom provided a great system, technical assistance, coordination with the design team and a warranty.”

Attaining historical accuracy

Hearst Castle is a designated National Historic Landmark to protect the architectural masterpieces located at this unique site in California history. This status required an exact color and material match to reproduce the classic patterns of the original marble tile installation. Prior to demolition, 3D laser scans were used to map the tile in the pool to within 1/8”. From these calculations, dimensioned shop drawings were produced to plot the location of individual tiles and their relation to other pool elements. 

Since the site is a National Historic Landmark, an exact color and material match was required to reproduce the classic patterns of the original marble tile installation.

Honoring its first builders, the original Vermont quarry locations were located by a team from the state and used to source the new marble and serpentine needed to bring the pool back in all of its glory. 

All of this planning was followed by the painstaking installation of over 19,000 stone tiles involving countless referrals to photos, plans and other documentation of the original pool. Tiles were carefully fabricated and sorted by character to best replicate every detail of the historic project. Skilled masons set 3,000 sq. ft. of Vermont Verde Antique® serpentine and 7,000 sq. ft. of Olympian White Danby® marble. To match the original pool, the new stone was also cut to 3/4”-thick, so it was quite heavy at 12 lbs./sq. ft. MegaLite® Ultimate Crack Prevention Large Format Tile Mortar was specified for the setting the natural stone in this challenging environment. This mortar exceeds ANSI A118.15 TE for use up to 3/4” thick to support heavy tile and prevent lippage. 

According to the company, MegaLite offers the highest bond strength for the most demanding installation requirements and has the flexibility to withstand horizontal substrate movement. The lightweight formula provided excellent handling characteristics, including

Each stone tile was back-buttered prior to being placed.

less fatigue for installers working with heavy materials. Thixotropic properties provided the non-sag, non-slump performance needed for setting natural stone on both the bottom and vertical sides of the pool. 

Achieving 95% coverage

The adhesive mortar was keyed into the substrate. Then, additional mortar was combed in straight lines using the SuperiorBilt® Premium Notch trowel; this tool is designed to promote ridge collapse once the tile is set. Following industry best practices, trowel ridges were placed running parallel to the shortest side of rectangular tiles to facilitate air release. Each stone tile was back-buttered prior to being placed. Finally, tiles were moved across the trowel ridges to collapse them, release air and prevent voids behind the tile. 

An installer checks the back of a Olympian White Danby® marble tile to ensure 95% coverage.

The stone workers used soft rubber mallets to beat in the bedded tile for a flat tiled surface. Suction cups were used to periodically check mortar coverage and transfer to ensure that it met the 95% requirement for natural stone, exteriors or wet areas. With the pool combining all of these elements, proper ridge collapse and coverage were especially important to protect the tile per ANSI A108.5.2.5. 

The Neptune Pool’s marble and serpentine tiles were grouted with PolyBlend® Non-Sanded Grout. After testing with samples of the stone and historic small joints between tiles, the sand-free formula proved ideal for the project. This durable, non-shrinking, polymer-modified grout can be used to fill joints up to 1/8”. Bright White was the shade used to replicate the original grout, which long pre-dated
colored grouts.

The Neptune Pool’s marble and serpentine tiles were grouted with PolyBlend® Non-Sanded Grout, in the Bright White shade to replicate the original grout.

“As Californians, we take tremendous pride in this project,” said Jim Christenson, field superintendant at Carnevale & Lohr. “Everyone was very excited to watch the pool come back to life.” 

PRODUCTS USED: RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane; MegaLite® Ultimate Crack Prevention Large Format Tile Mortar; PolyBlend® Non-Sanded Grout; Commercial 100% Silicone Sealant 

LOCATION: San Simeon, Calif.


ARCHITECT: Page & Turnbull, San Francisco, Calif.

GENERAL CONTRACTOR: T.B. Penick & Sons, Inc., San Diego, Calif.

TILE CONTRACTORS: Carnevale & Lohr, Inc., Bell Gardens, Calif.; Charles McCandless Tile, Inc., Santa Ana, Calif.

CUSTOM BUILDING PRODUCTS TEAM: Brian Swann, District Manager; David Stephens, Territory Manager