Saginaw native Dustin Harder has been on the road for 10 years as an entertainer.
After touring the country with “Sesame Street Live” and Broadway’s “Annie” revival, Harder traded dressing rooms and nightly performances for life in a van with a good friend and a suitcase full of cooking supplies.
Harder is creator of the web series “The Vegan Roadie,” which debuted in 2015. Though he makes his home in New York, Harder and his cameraman, Drew Williams, travel around the country on the hunt for the best vegan eats in the United States. The pair is filming its second season and will begin airing episodes July 7.
“I try to vary it,” Harder said. “I try to do a restaurant that has something for everyone, so you can take someone there and they can try vegan food. I try to give a well-rounded scope of what a city has to offer.”
Harder, 35, recently stopped in Saginaw en route to film in Ann Arbor and Traverse City. At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, he will visit The Lunch Room in Ann Arbor to host a free vegan cookout. Donations will be accepted to benefit the SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary.
A vegan for seven years now, Harder tries to help people become familiar with plant-based cooking, which he said is becoming more mainstream. In his show, he attempts to show viewers that cooking vegan doesn’t have to be a hassle.
“I like flavors that the rest of America is familiar with. While I love a plant-based dish that’s got some beats and horseradish aioli, I also love a hearty bowl of macaroni and cheese,” he said. “I look for places that offer those American staples that make people go, ‘Oh, I can do that.'”
While on the road, Harder shows viewers his “five-ingredient challenge,” where he assembles a vegan meal in his hotel room. The idea, he said, is to use simple, minimal ingredients that don’t require a trip to a specialty grocery store.
Before the show, Harder worked on Broadway. His last gig involved overseeing dogs in the cast of “Annie.” Though leaving theater was difficult, he sees hosting his show as a different form of acting.
Harder went to Heritage High School in Saginaw. Early in his acting career, he performed at Pit and Balcony Theater. A couple times a year, he visits his hometown.
As he’s traveled the country, he’s noticed eating has become easier, as more restaurants now include vegan options. His go-to for eating in Saginaw is Pasong’s Cafe. He also hopes to create a vegan sandwich for Dawn of a New Day Coffee House.
While traveling, Harder brings various cooking supplies and spices. He often makes “green smoothies” on the road. His main goal is to show people can eat vegan easily.
In the future, Harder hopes to have a show on Amazon or Netflix. Right now, he and his one-man film crew want to keep funding and growing the show. Both seasons have been partially funded through Kickstarter campaigns.
“We just have enough (money) to pay our rent,” he said. “Neither one of us are getting paid. It’s a labor of love that hopefully makes some sort of change in the world, or at least offer something entertaining.”
The Vegan Roadie has almost 2,000 subscribers on YouTube. Eventually, Harder hopes to take it international or write a cookbook.
“I feel strongly that what I’ve created is something that helps people be more comfortable with the word ‘vegan’ and plant-based food,” he said. “We would love for it to continue moving forward and keep growing.”