British Columbia

John Dys, founder of De Dutch Pannekoek House, dies at 85

The man who brought Dutch pancakes to Vancouver and created a successful chain of nearly 20 restaurants throughout B.C. has died. 

Dys moved to Canada in 1955 and introduced Vancouver to one of his home country's signature dishes

John Dys, founder of the De Dutch Pannekoek House chain in B.C., died April 30. He was 85. (Odilia Dys-Steenbergen)

The man who brought Dutch pancakes to Vancouver and created a successful chain of nearly 20 restaurants throughout B.C. has died. 

John Dys, founder of De Dutch Pannekoek House, died peacefully at home on April 30, with his wife and two golden retrievers by his side. He was 85. 

Odilia Dys-Streenbergen, his wife of 28 years, says the family was grateful he was able to live out his life at home so he could have a chance to see everyone before he died. 

Dys-Streenbergen, 50, said her husband was quite active until a couple of years ago, when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had initially responded well to treatment but the cancer then returned, and had spread.

'Larger than life'

She described Dys as a "very vibrant, sort of larger-than-life kind of person."

"He was a real out-of-the-box thinker — he was extremely creative in his own right," Dys-Streenbergen said.

"He was also very authentic and genuine."

John Dys in front of his signature restaurant, De Dutch, which has nearly 20 locations across the province. (Odilia Dys-Steenbergen)

Dys was born on New Year's Eve, 1934, in Bodegraven, Netherlands. He was the eldest of six children. His wife said his entrepreneurial spirit began during the Second World War, when Dys would find odd jobs to help out his family. 

Dys moved to Canada in 1955, arriving by ship to Halifax and then taking the train and making his way to Vancouver Island, where he worked in a logging camp.

"John always had an adventurous spirit to him," Dys-Streenbergen said. 

He later moved to Vancouver, where he worked at a restaurant. He then opened his own establishment, The Frying Dutchman Hamburger House, which drew attention in the late 60s and early 70s for predicting provincial elections with his "Hamburger Polls" at the Pacific National Exhibition fair. 

De Dutch founder John Dys worked at a logging camp on Vancouver Island when he first moved to Canada from the Netherlands. (Submitted by Odilia Dys-Steenbergen)

After visiting his parents in the Netherlands in 1975, Dys was inspired to open a restaurant featuring a signature breakfast dish of his homeland — the thick, topping-laden pancake known as pannekoek. 

He first opened the Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe, which still stands in Cambie Village today, albeit under new ownership. That's where Dys-Streenbergen met her husband nearly 30 years ago. 

Dys then went on to found the Original Dutch Pannekoek House at the corner of Knight Street and 25th Avenue. He later renamed it De Dutch and the restaurant grew into a chain, with 19 locations throughout the province. 

'A real accomplishment'

Dys-Streenbergen said many members of his family, including his children and grandchildren, have worked at the restaurants in some capacity over the years. 

"The restaurant was definitely a place that many people got involved in," she said.

She said Dys himself worked actively at the restaurants well into his 70s. He was proud of his accomplishments, she said, "but in a humble way."

"It felt like a real accomplishment to him," she said.

Dys is survived by his wife, his children Vicky, Anny and Richard, six grandchildren, his sisters Luut and Nanna and his brother Dick.

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