Peel Wood Fired Pizza co-owners Patrick Thirion and Brandon Case are chefs first, owners second – and now, brewers third. Peel’s second location opened in O’Fallon in early December, serving the same made-from-scratch 11-inch pizzas as the flagship in Edwardsville, Illinois, yet it deviates from the original in two distinct ways.
First, brewing equipment for Peel Brewing Co. is housed on the second floor of the pizzeria’s historic 1902 building, which includes a seven-barrel system producing six brews. Second, Thirion and Case have tripled the square footage with the new location, bumping up capacity from 80 (plus 30 on the patio) in Edwardsville to 230 in O’Fallon. The new location features more lounge areas for relaxing with a beer and snacks while you wait for a table to open up.
What’s your background with brewing? Both Brandon and I have been into home-brewing for a while, but it’s been a learning process for us. We’ve had some help with training on our new system from the company we bought it from, plus we had Jesse Rosenberg, a former employee at New York’s Brooklyn Brewery, help us. Really it’s just practice, practice, practice. We went through numerous test batches, and we were prepared to only serve one beer when we opened.
Which beers are your best sellers? The cream ale and Belgian strong. The cream ale is a bit more popular because it’s our introductory beer: It’s a nice smooth beer with a lower ABV than the others. But we got more positive comments about the Belgian strong right off the bat – I think beer-drinkers appreciate the flavor. We [introduced] an oatmeal milk stout in our brew schedule, and we’ll continue to change things up. I don’t think we’ll ever be at the capability to have 10 or 12 beers, but we’d like to be able to rotate a couple on top of our four regulars.
Why did you want to add a brewery to your second location? The brick outer walls and hardwood floors were part of the original structure, so it was a big open space. We didn’t want to do any type of catering or banquets, even though the space would be beautiful for it; we wanted to be more lounge-oriented and give people a reason to come up here. The hardest part was putting the brewery on the second level – that’s 10 tons of concrete and equipment and beer that has to be supported two floors down in the basement. A smart person would have said no, don’t put a brewery up there.
Why did you choose to open in O’Fallon? It was definitely the city first; we’ve been looking at O’Fallon for the past three years. The space was a close second. We knew we didn’t want to be part of the corporate atmosphere off Highway 64 nearby. O’Fallon is the second largest city in southern Illinois, with a lot of housing, and that really gives the feel of being part of a community. The building has been many things in its 100-plus years – a bank, skating rink, ballroom, shooting range and more.
Any challenges during the build out? It’s been a two-year process. We kept the bones, and then everything else we did ourselves. The [construction crew] found pillars and structural support that hadn’t been on architectural plans for 30 years. So they would knock down a wall and be like, “Oh that’s there for structure; that has to stay.” So we had to go back and retool the kitchen layout or move pieces of equipment.
Any menu changes at the new location? We added two pizzas for this location only, and the sausage-jalapeño has been selling really well. We’ve added rotating chef’s selections every Friday – [one week it was] a pine nut-encrusted black grouper with braised fennel and toasted-orzo custard – since we have the kitchen capabilities to introduce new items. Our locations are far apart, yes, but they’re still close enough so that they can be unique in their own way.
Peel Wood Fired Pizza, 104 S. Cherry St., O’Fallon, Illinois, 618.726.2244; and 921 S. Arbor Vitae #101, Edwardsville, Illinois, 618.659.8561, peelpizza.com
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