LINCOLN SQUARE — A Lincoln Square nonprofit offering job training to adults with developmental disabilities has created a unique new opportunity for its participants: creating and selling dog treats from local breweries’ spent grain.
Gateway To Learning, 4925 N. Lincoln Ave., serves more than 85 adults with intellectual challenges and developmental disabilities by offering them safe, controlled environments for job opportunities where they can learn various skills.
Last month, Gateway announced it is partnering with suburban Naperville-based nonprofit Earn With A Purpose, which also employs people with developmental disabilities, to relaunch its Barley’s Biscuits program.
Barley’s dog biscuits are made with spent grain from local breweries Half Acre and Pilot Projects Brewing. Gateway has worked on the biscuits for years, but the partnership will allow Gateway to expand the program and sell the dog treats via Earn With A Purpose’s online store.
The nonprofits’ clients will work together to pack, ship and deliver the dog biscuits for online sales and for customers buying them in person at Dorothy’s Sweet Shoppe and the Lincoln Square farmers market.
“Gateway wanted to move forward with this partnership because we share many of the same values and ideals,” Gateway Executive Director Kathryn Lavin said. “We are very excited about the prospect of reaching more customers through a program that also provides employment opportunities for adults with diverse needs and abilities.”
Spent grain — a byproducts of fermenting beer — can be a “pretty serious waste stream” for breweries, said Ryan O’Doherty, the head brewer at Half Acre. The brewery had about 4 million pounds of spent grain last year, he said.
The majority of Half Acre’s spent grain goes to farms in Wisconsin, where it’s used as cattle feed. But for the past few years, the brewery has donated buckets of it to Gateway every month so they can use it to make dog biscuits, he said.
“When opportunities like this pop up to work with someone local and for it to go to such a good cause, it’s just a no-brainer for us to do that,” O’Doherty said.
Gateway had the idea to partner with craft breweries to make the dog treats before the pandemic. Its staff spent almost a year working on the recipe and the production process, said Director of Operations John Ratzenberger.
“Spent grain can be a very finicky, delicate ingredient,” Ratzenberger said.
By late 2019, the process for making the dog treats was finalized. Gateway planned to announce the new product in early 2020 — but the pandemic hitting Chicago disrupted those plans until this relaunch, Ratzenberger said.
The program allows Gateway to offer more advanced and varied job and learning opportunities to the adults it serves, especially as the dog biscuit operation continues to grow, Ratzenberger said.
Barley’s Biscuits are made with just four ingredients: whole grain, egg, peanut butter and flour. Every month, two breweries donate more than 55 pounds of their spent grain, and Gateway uses it to produce 100-120 bags of the treats.
Earn With a Purpose’s site has helped the nonprofits maintain sales of the dog treats. The adults who make the treats have ramped up production in anticipation of National Spoil Your Dog Day on Aug. 10, said Gateway spokeswoman Jessica Gillespie.
“We are building a collaborative community of employees and supporters including families, volunteers, mentors and businesses,” said Russell Karlins, Earn with A Purpose founder.
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