Beer and pizza have always been a popular late-night pairing, but what about beer in pizza? Leave it to a Missouri S&T graduate to start a pizza business that uses spent grains from breweries to prepare its dough.
During the brewing process, malted grains are cracked and mashed to extract sugars, proteins and nutrients for the beer. The leftover grains are called “spent” grains and can constitute up to 85 percent of a brewery’s total by-product. Often, breweries donate their spent grains to local farmers to use as livestock feed. But they can also be used to enrich the flavor of baked goods such as cookies, doughnuts and — you guessed it — pizza.
Jon Leek’s Pulse Pizza uses spent grains, yeast and three types of flour, including barley flour, to make its pizza dough. The spent grains and barley flour bring a subtle, slight sweetness to the finished pizza’s crispy, baked bronze dough.
The St. Louis-based pizza company gets its spent grains from a number of area breweries, and the dough they make differs depending on the type of grains used.
“Darker, heavier beer makes a darker, heavier crust,” says Leek, Psyc’09.
Leek came up with the idea to make “beer pizza” over drinks with friends at an annual holiday gathering they call Beers-giving.
“The rule for Beers-giving is when you come, you have to bring a beer-infused dish,” he says. Leek and his two roommates “were trying to think of different things we could do for Beers-giving. I was like, ‘Let’s do beer pizza. Spent grains are a thing. Beer bread is a thing. Let’s make a beer bread-style crust.’”
“It’s about having fun and doing something interesting.”
The beer pizza was such a hit among their friends that Leek and his roommates formed an LLC, called Pulse Pizza. Leek also has a full-time day job as a technical success analyst at Gainsight: Customer Success Software. He credits his studies in psychology at S&T, where he conducted research focused on influence and group behavior — “what makes stuff addictive” — with the success of Pulse. “If you want to get customers, you have to stand out, you have to do something different,” he says.
Pulse started out catering parties and events and soon struck a deal with Orbit Pinball Lounge in Maplewood, Mo. Pulse now serves pizzas there from 6 p.m. to close every Monday and Thursday. Leek and his partners eventually want to get a small storefront somewhere in St. Louis where they can operate a delivery and take-out-only restaurant. “We’re talking to investors and working on our business plan,” he says.
The pizzas that Leek and his partners make are almost as distinctive as the dough they prepare them with. Their offerings include a jalapeno popper pizza and a baked potato pizza. Perhaps their most interesting pizza is inspired by the made-up holiday that gave birth to the company: the Beers-giving pizza. Offered every November, this pizza uses gravy instead of sauce and is topped with beer-brined turkey, beer-steamed green beans, beer-candied sweet potatoes, dried cranberries and Gruyere cheese.
“It’s about having fun and doing something interesting,” says Leek.