By Shane Crowe, The Entertainer!

After opening the state’s first cider house, Cider Corps is teaming up with local pizza guru Myke Olsen to expand the distillery into a space where pizza and cider can be enjoyed together.

The idea for Cider Corps came about after Sgt. Jason Duren, USMC, Ret., hit two improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan in 2012. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that required speech and cognitive therapy, part of which required Jason to engage in activities with a set process.

Cider inspired him after he tried it in Ireland for the first time. He spoke to his brother, Josh, who had it in Canada. The two embarked on cider as a hobby and as part of his cognitive therapy.

“We thought, ‘That might be fun,’ and it fits in with everything my doctor’s telling me to do,” Jason says. “There’s a recipe that you have to follow, you can make changes to it, you either try to replicate it or think of things that are different.”

To prepare for his business venture, after he medically retired in 2014, he used the GI Bill to go to ASU to study sustainable horticulture. Before his schooling, he didn’t understand the science behind cider.

“As I was going through school, and Josh and I were doing this hobby at home, I started to understand a little bit more of the science behind it,” Jason says. “I would take stuff into school and get advice from teachers.”

From there, the brothers perfected their signature cider formula using a process called malolactic fermentation, which maintains apples’ sweetness. Jason says this makes for a smoother, less tart cider.

The brothers then made numerous connections in the community and eventually acquired their building.

“Since then we’ve become friends with so many other makers out there,” Jason says. “We’ve started to accept other people into our family.”

This is certainly the case as Myke’s Pizza is a permanent fixture in the distillery, serving pizza from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. When Myke’s Pizza is not open, Cider Corps has a rotation of food trucks at the cidery. Cider Corps is open seven days a week.

Myke Olsen and Manoly Kladovasilakis began making pizza at an outdoor pop-up a little over two years ago. They spent two nights a week outside Mezona Market and eventually added a night outside Cider Corps.

“Myke had these little grills that he was cooking on,” Jason says. “This dude is ranked in the top two of pizza makers in Arizona, and he’s cruising around (in) a little pop-up.

The union was set in motion during the next 10 months, according to Kladovasilakis.

“I personally didn’t want to spend another summer outside,” Olsen says. “Being outside for another summer would be pretty miserable. We did that last year and we made it work but we definitely don’t want to do that again.”

To make room for Myke’s Pizza, Cider Corps moved a large chiller to make room for a brick-and-mortar oven, and added 2,000 square feet for additional production equipment.

Myke’s Pizza and Cider Corps unveiled their expansion on June 14.

Right now, the pizza duo is translating the pizzas they already make from a grill to a more traditional brick and mortar oven. Eventually they hope to add new menu items such as sides, appetizers and desserts. Olsen describes his pizza as artisan, wood-style, Neapolitan pizza. The pies are priced between $10 and $14.

“For me, I’m just trying to make pizza that I want to eat,” he says. “Ultimately, my goal has been to create a community and to create a space where people can enjoy themselves and connect with one another. I want them to have a cool place where they feel welcome and safe; a place where the craft of what we’re doing can be honored, because I feel like in Mesa, it’s kind of underserved in terms of food and drink.”

Jason expressed similar sentiments.

“We’re veteran-owned. We work with a lot of veteran organizations, but it’s not just that,” he says. “Sometimes it’s about rebuilding a community, especially in kind of a broken area. It’s really important to show that partnership. We’re fortunate that this took off and we’re fortunate that we’re able to give someone an opportunity to come from a pop-up to a brick and mortar. It’s crazy how it’s all happened.”

Olsen hopes people will visit Myke’s for the pizza the same way they come to Cider Corps from far and wide for the craft cider.

“I would love for it to be a destination,” Olsen says. “Last fall we took a trip to Portland for the specific reason of eating pizza. I would love for our spot to turn into something like that.”

Cider Corps |31 S. Robson, Suite 103, Mesa | Phone: 480.993.3164,

cidercorpsaz.com.

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