Disrupting beer, tech and pizza with Jonathan Leek

Estimated reading time: 2 minute(s)

Jonathan Leek
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Leek

Jonathan Leek is Director of Special Projects at Lumate, owner of Pulse Pizza, event organizer for Open Data STL, and past chair of the International Game Developers Association – Saint Louis.

Whether he’s working his tech job, starting a pizza business using spent brewing grains or doing hacker events, Jonathan makes stuff happen and helps others find their potential. If you’ve participated in a hackathon, open data event or game jam in St. Louis, Jonathan probably helped make it happen.

What summarizes what you do across all your roles?

There are always people wanting to do things that they can’t do on their own. I create opportunities for them to find each other to collaborate.

How did you get involved in everything? What prepared you for it?

I got involved in hackathons through needing to know all the game developers in town when we moved to St. Louis from Rolla. I ended up at the Game Jam and it was amazing to see the output with almost no structure or direction.

What problem do hackathons solve?

Hackathons are great for identifying talent. Game jams are great for developing talent. Each has a different goal and different outcomes.

What problem does your pizza solve?

Breweries normally throw away all the fiber and protein that came with their grains just to get the sugars for fermentation. We use that fiber and protein goodness in foods, starting with pizza crust. Food is expected with beer and breweries, but no one opens a brewery to manage a kitchen. For brewers like Standard Brewing, Pulse Pizza produces food completely tied to their beer.

What’s the biggest untapped potential you see today?

Through the game jams and open data events, we see there’s a tremendous amount of talent that is otherwise going to waste because someone doesn’t check all the right check boxes on a hiring application. It’s better to train to fill gaps than to try to un-train habits learned somewhere else.

Where do you get inspiration?

From other areas, combined. Most of our pizzas come from other areas, like Beersgiving is Thanksgiving dinner cooked with beer and on a crust.   One of my favorite game jam games was Battleship merged with the stealth action game genre. You look at the common elements between disparate genres, business models or foods.

Where do you do your best work?

For everything I do, usually at a brewery. It hits the right level of noise, energy, commotion without me needing to be drawn into any of it.

If time and money were not a factor, what would you spend your time doing?

I would love to give my time and effort to Open Data STL. Government and civic life needs so much more. I’d like to publish board and card games if I didn’t have to earn a regular paycheck. I’d also like to run a super awesome geek workshop where I could learn a skill or try something new every day.

Favorite guilty pleasure?

Right now I’m playing Infinifactory, like Minecraft but you make factories.

When do you live by routines?

Every job has its tedious and long parts, so we fill dough-making with cartoons. It started with the Simpsons and now it’s Rick and Morty.

What’s your go-to tool for the tough stuff—those that don’t get what you’re doing?

We have the opposite problem. Everyone thinks they understand pizza—we get more advice than we can deal with. For example, lots of people like the idea of PB&J pizza.  We have to explain we tried that and that unfortunately PB bursts into flames in the oven. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to learn about what really happens. It’s not about shutting down the conversation—let’s focus on sharing.