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ZwanzigZ taps into microbrew popularity to complement pizza business with craft beers

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ZwanzigZ Pizza now includes a microbrewery that will offer up to eight beers and, for the local high school customers, two sodas in their school colors, one orange, one blue.

Owners Kurt and Lisa Zwanzig also have expanded the restaurant at 1038 Lafayette Ave., doubling the seating capacity and number of pizza ovens and creating an additional 15 jobs.

The restaurant’s new centerpiece is the addition on the building’s west side. Large windows reveal to passersby the seven-barrel, stainless steel brewing system, which allows brewing of up to 14 kegs of beer at a time.

As brewmaster, the Zwanzigs brought in from the Chicago area Kurt’s college friend Mike Rybinski, who has more than 20 years of commercial brewing experience and has won three gold medals in the World Beer Cup, the Super Bowl of beer brewers.

Kurt said that he and his wife for years had discussed adding a brewery to complement the pizza business. When Rybinski stopped by on his way to the Kentucky Derby one year, the friends developed more concrete plans.

“It was like old times,” Rybinski said.

“We started talking about beer and pizza,” said Kurt.

Rybinski, who won the World Beer Cup while brewing at Walter Payton’s Roundhouse, said he was drawn in by the Zwanzigs’ concept to pair world-class pizza with world-class beer.

“It’s fun to get creative,” Rybinski said.

Good craft beer creates a good vibe, he said, and he still gets a kick out of seeing people try his creations, including a chocolate-flavored beer ZwanzigZ offered for Valentine’s Day.

“To watch people freak out when they (try) it … I love it,” said Rybinski, who learned his craft at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, one of two beer schools in America. Beer school may sound like pure fun, Rybinski said, but learning about the right combination of grains, yeasts, water and other variables such as temperature actually requires a clear head.

Last week, ZwanzigZ already had six beers on tap, including an India pale ale, a light-colored Hefe Weiss, which has lots of carbonation, and an imperial stout, which has a strong flavor with hints of dark-roasted coffee.

The Zwanzigs beamed recently as they showed off their new restaurant, reminiscing about how they started 10 years ago on Jonesville Road with Kurt making the dough and Lisa adding the toppings, with both mopping the floors after hours. Kurt chuckled as he glanced at the restaurant’s new storage area, which covers about as much space as the entire Garden City restaurant.

Since August, the couple has spent most days and nights preparing for the expansion. They lauded their employees, who kept the operation going while the owners dealt with the addition.

Jerry Parker, ZwanzigZ lead manager, said he’s “ecstatic” about the expansion and brewery.

“When you serve a product that everybody loves, it just makes you feel better,” said Parker, who has been with ZwanzigZ for eight years, working his way up from delivery driver.

Long-time customer Sally Fiesbeck said she likes the new ZwanzigZ even better.

“I just think it’s gorgeous,” said Fiesbeck, who is such a big fan of the restaurant that she asked the Zwanzigs to cater her daughter’s wedding, which had about 500 guests.

Fiesbeck, who lives on a farm in northern Bartholomew County, said on Friday that she had already eaten at ZwanzigZ five times that week and also tried a beer sampler. Though not a beer drinker, she said she did enjoy the Hefe Weiss.

The Zwanzigs emphasized that the restaurant primarily will remain a family restaurant, focusing on its traditional business of preparing excellent pizza, including its Hawaiian barbecue and bacon cheeseburger pies. For now, ZwanzigZ will open at 11 a.m. daily and remain open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and until 10 p.m. the rest of the week.

Kurt said the couple wanted to offer the blue and orange sodas as a thank-you to all the loyal high school customers.

“The East and the North kids have been a huge part of our business,” he said.

A portion of the soda sales will go back to the schools, he said. A root beer and a black cherry soda also will be crafted.

The bar area, which offers views of the kitchen and brewing area, will be accessible only by adults, though patrons in the traditional seating area to the east also will be able to order beer with their pies.

Beer will be delivered along with pizza, the Zwanzigs said, and can be carried out in growlers of about four pints.

The Zwanzigs said they also plan occasionally to host light blues and jazz artists.

At a glance

Name: ZwanzigZ Pizza.

What: Restaurant and brewery. Brewery was added this year, along with expanded seating.

On tap: Hefe Weiss, nut brown ale, India pale ale, imperial stout, honey wheat and a chocolate beer. A Scotch ale and pilsner are soon to follow.

Location: 1038 Lafayette Ave.

Owners: Lisa and Kurt Zwanzig.

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