Skeena Voices | Living the simple life

Skeena Voices | Living the simple life

Donair truck owner wanted to spend more time with daughters

These days, Jens Pillat favours a simple life.

The 46-year-old used to be a firefighter in Germany before coming to B.C. to earn his helicopter pilot’s licence. After several years of flying choppers, mostly in forestry, Pillat stepped away from that career to spend more time with his two daughters, who are 8 and 11 years old.

“As a pilot, you’re always in camp. You’re always gone,” he told The Terrace Standard.

Now Pillat owns and operates the Papa Jens donair truck, which can usually be found parked next to Kal Tire in Terrace. Pillat spent months renovating an old motor home to accommodate the donair business, which officially opened on Sept. 1.

Pillat explained that donairs in Germany are usually different from donairs in Canada, and he wanted to bring that German style to Terrace.

“Over here it’s usually a wrap,” he said. “[But] I bake my own bread, so it’s more like a fluffy big sandwich.”

Pillat said he’s not a professional cook.

“I’m not a chef, but I can make donairs I guess,” he joked. “I like to cook at home, but nothing fancy, more down to earth, like stew and schnitzel. My girls like it.”

Pillat said he likes to joke, though his German sense of humour might not always jive with Canadian senses of humour. He’s already drawing plenty of laughs on social media for his outrageous, informal posts advertising the food truck. One such post featured a risque calendar photo of a muscled, shirtless firefighter — the post implied that you too could have such a body if you ate at the donair truck daily.

But Pillat said he takes his work in the food truck very seriously.

“Anything hygiene I don’t joke around. I want everything clean and quality. That’s my worst fear, like to put a bad donair out,” he said.

Pillat grew up in a small village near Frankfurt, Germany and he was a bit of a rascal as a teenager, he said. He started his working life as an apprentice cabinet maker. Then, he did a year of military service, which was compulsory for young German men at the time.

While most wanted to fail the military intake medical exam, Pillat was eager to pass it and serve as a paratrooper. He aced the medical exam, but was promptly stationed in front of a typewriter for the logistics department. That was baffling to him, he said, because growing up he was always a handy guy who enjoyed wrenching and that type of work.

“What do they do? They put me in an office and give me a typewriter … Just put me on a truck or something, or a forklift,” he said. “And the other guys that were really smart and knew all that [typing stuff], they [were] put on the trucks and on the forklifts.”

“But that’s typical military.”

He went on to work as a professional firefighter in Frankfurt for eight years. During that period, he took a year off and traveled around the world on his BMW motorcycle. The trip was inspired by an old tradition where young German journeymen take an epic hitchhiking journey, equipped with little more than the clothes on their backs, to visit different places to learn more about their trade.

Pillat rode his motorbike through the Sahara desert, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Norway and other places, visiting fire stations all along the way. He said he learned a lot during that trip and had plenty of wild experiences.

In Australia, he reached into a fire hydrant to clear out some debris just like he would have done in Germany.

“I did that in Australia, I just wanted to reach in with my bare hands, and the other [firefighter] just kicked me out. ‘There’s a spider in there!’”

In Nevada, he had a rough time with the desert heat while he was bundled up in motorcycle riding gear, and the Las Vegas fire department took pity on him.

“I spent three days there in Death Valley, and I come out just like a hillbilly, you know, not shaved, like I’m done. And I knock on the door of the Las Vegas fire station [saying] ‘Uhhh yeah, I’m a German fireman …’” he said with a chuckle.

“They looked at me and said ‘Come on in. We’ll get you a shower and some food to eat.’”

He first arrived in Canada after visiting New Zealand. His motorcycle was being shipped by boat and wouldn’t arrive for weeks, so he spent that time hitchhiking around Vancouver Island.

“The first impression is simply the size,” he said of Canada. “For Germans or Europeans, we can’t imagine the size.”

After his bike arrived and he traveled to northern B.C., he began to appreciate the freedom that the open spaces allow. He could simply park his bike and camp next to a creek somewhere.

“You wouldn’t even be allowed to do that in Germany. Everything would be private property,” he said.

In Alaska, he met a German helicopter pilot who let him stay in the hangar for a night. The next day, the pilot took Pillat out for a spin in the helicopter. That’s when Pillat became interested in piloting helicopters. He thought it was achievable because the German pilot he’d met was previously a police officer in Germany.

When he returned to Frankfurt and his firefighter job, he began plotting how he would get his pilot’s licence.

“I actually took all my vacation that I had in one year, took it all at once, and I told the flight school in Prince George ‘I need to get it done in two and a half months,’” he said. “[They said] ‘Okay, that’s doable if you study.’ So I did it and then went back to my job.”

Pillat made a buddy in flight school who was from Terrace, so once the immigration process was sorted, Pillat came here in search of work.

From then on, he has spent most of his time between Terrace and Germany.

Now, he says, he’s content to run the donair truck and spent as much time as possible with his girls.

“My girls, they wanted a pony. I said ‘once we sell one million donairs,’” he laughed. “Now they are counting. ‘How many did you sell today?’”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This concept artwork from July 2020 shows the inland port planned for the former Skeena Cellulose mill site in Terrace. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Terrace city council approves inland port OCP amendments

Project still requires zoning bylaw, development permit to continue

This copper frog pendant was made by Jamika Aksidan, a young Nisga’a artist who was recently recognized with an award for her work. (Photo courtesy Nisga’a Museum)
Nisga’a youth artist wins award

Award includes $500, exhibition in Nisga’a Museum

A BC Hydro outage is affecting nearly 4000 customers in Kitimat. The cause of the outage is under investigation. (Screenshot/BC Hydro Outage Map)
Cable fault responsible for Kitimat power outage, BC Hydro says

At its peak, the BC Hydro power outage affected near 4,000 customers

Graph showing the 2020 passenger totals at the Northwest Regional Airport in Terrace. (Submitted/Northwest Regional Airport)
New year brings an end to a turbulent 2020 at Northwest Regional Airport

Passenger totals half of what they were in 2019

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Most Read