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Liberation Donuts
Photograph: Time Out / Morgan Olsen

Chicago’s first vegan-owned doughnut shop deals in crave-worthy flavors

You don't have to be a vegan to dig what's happening at Liberation Donuts.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

For the past 14 years, Upton's Naturals founder Dan Staackmann has been introducing the masses to meat alternatives like jackfruit, banana blossom and seitan. But his latest venture is something that both vegans and carnivores can appreciate: doughnuts. Located at 2054 W Grand Avenue in West Town, Liberation Donuts is a self-proclaimed "radically vegan" doughnut shop that produces 12 flavors daily.

The concept is personal for Staackmann, who says he couldn't find a vegan doughnut in Chicago that wasn't baked—he much prefers the craggy, crispy crunch of perfectly fried pastry. When some space freed up at Upton's Breakroom, he saw an opportunity to fill the void with help from Cody DeFrate, who previously managed operations at Donut Friend, a popular vegan shop in Los Angeles.

Together, the two oversee Liberation Donuts, which pulls inspiration from the contemporary animal rights movements of the 1970s. Each of the 12 pastries on offer is named for an animal or animal liberation philosophy. For instance, Compassion is a plain cake doughnut that's frosted in vanilla glaze and filled with cherry-rosemary jam; Sanctuary is topped with brûléed sugar and pineapples.

"My personal favorite also happens to be our bestseller—For Greta," Staackmann says. "It's a whipped cream-filled doughnut topped with strawberry glaze and a fresh strawberry named after my own rescue German shepherd, Greta."

The idea of "radical veganism" extends far beyond what you do or don't consume—it's also about treating animals and humans with compassion. To hammer home that mission, Staackmann donates 50 percent of proceeds from every Total Liberation doughnut to a new animal rights or humanitarian organization every month. Throughout January, sales from the lemon poppyseed pastry will benefit CARE, a nonprofit committed to creating just relationships between shelters and the communities they partner with.

Staackmann says that he hopes to expand the business eventually; for now, Liberation Donuts operates out of Upton's Breakroom in West Town with delivery available through Tock and Uber Eats. In the meantime, he and DeFrate are focused on giving Chicagoans a taste of radical veganism—a movement that doesn't sacrifice taste or creativity.

"You don't have to be a vegan to enjoy a vegan doughnut, especially not ours," Staackmann says. "We know that for some people, this will be their first experience trying a vegan product, and we hope that it encourages them to start incorporating more vegan alternatives into their lives."

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