Seein’ vegan: Dean Litster seizes an opportunity

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He’s covered in pizza tattoos, he’s got an award winning moustache, and he’s the darling of Windsor vegans. If Abe Froman is the Sausage King of Chicago, Dean Litster is the Vegan King of Windsor.

Litster caught the attention of the Facebook group Vegans of Windsor when locals began posting photos of the vegan pizzas he started offering at the Cabana Armando’s location. Head over to the Facebook page and virtually on any day you’ll see either a post praising him because of his vegan offerings, or a post from him announcing a new vegan offering resulting in praise.

His foray into vegan food started when his tattoo artist “wouldn’t stop smashing my nuts to make vegan food”  because he had noticed a gap he thought Litster could fill. A few months in, and Litster’s built a mountain over a hole.

“I have to say it’s humbling…my phone is exploding,” he joked while checking his Facebook notifications. In the past two months he’s launched over six different vegan pizzas, vegan poutine, vegan hamburgers, and other foods vegans often have chosen to give up due to their diets.

“They’re messaging me privately to tell me how thankful they are, they’re tagging me…this is the most acclaim that I’ve gotten for anything.”

In his 16 years of making pizza, Litster has only been making vegan food for about three months and has expanded his line to include gluten free options as well.

“It’s opened up a whole new world of food for me,” he said with an expression like a kid on Christmas morning.

“To be able to have a new avenue of food that you just found, it must be how it feels at NASA to find a new planet. The amount of exploration and experimentation you can do, it’s been blowing my mind.”

Litster understands the difficulties vegans face finding restaurants that offer both vegan and non-vegan options, and his goal has been to normalize vegan food and get it to the point where everybody enjoys it.

He’s now having non-vegans contacting him to let him know how great the non-vegan pizzas were and how astonished they were with the flavours.

“The fact that this community wants more and wants to express their love to me and what I’m doing…this is why I do it,” he explained. “You don’t work in a kitchen to get rich…you work in a kitchen because you love food and you love feeding people…you see their reactions and you get that feedback, that’s why you do it.”

Being able to give back to the community through pizza is Litster’s way of honouring a craft which made him the man he is today. It’s also the reason why he decided to covered himself in pizza tattoos.

“Everything in my life comes from pizza, I’ve been doing this sixteen years, the only job I’ve ever had has been making pizza. My house, car, my tattoos, everything in my life came from pizza. To me it’s more of paying homage to where I came from and I’m not going to ever forget where I came from.”

Litster has competed against other pizzerias in Las Vegas, Toronto and in Windsor, and the competitions help fuel his drive to both make the best pizza, and capture a top-place award.

“I haven’t been able to win…whether it’s locally, nationally, or internationally,” he lamented. “Lot’s of second places in Windsor, lots of top-tens nationally, top-fives internationally, but that elusive victory is still there and I think that is what is fueling me the most right now. I need to win, even though I’m winning every day with what’s going on around me.”

Ask him about Windsor Pizza and he’ll explain he’s trying to evolve the concept with “wildly handcrafted creative pizzas.”

He sees what he does as life changing, and he’s not kidding. “I always say ‘hey, get ready I’m making you a…life changing pizza!’”

While he comes off strong, he understands some are skeptical about his passion.

“When people talk to me they often laugh at me because the passion is so deep that you’re not sure if I’m serious or if I’m just joking around, but I’m truly that far off the deep end of seriousness of my love of pizza,” he professed, adding he only wants to be known for great pizza. “When you need pizza, you call Dean, Professor Zaa, he’s always in his lab.”

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Jon Liedtke is a writer, newspaper guy, trumpet player, lover of democracy, bagels and lox, & cannabis.