Renaissance Man: Parminder Parhar


If you’re like most students, a morning’s cup of coffee is as much a necessity for functioning as going to bed the night before. For 19 years — since opening the first Renaissance Coffee location in February 1996, initially as a six month trial — Parminder Parhar has made himself an integral part of the SFU community. Along with providing us our caffeine fix, he’s also a dedicated philanthropist, raising money for the Parhar Endowment Fund, which he aims to grow to $1 million to support students in years to come. Here, we talk to the Mumbai born and raised businessman about the coffee shop he named for “rebirth”:

When and why did you come to Canada?

“I came to Canada on August 10th, 1990. My father passed away and my family became lonely without him and my brother who was a father figure had moved to Canada [. . .] I started working at 7/11 as a Manager to gain managerial experience — this was the first opportunity I found in Canada.”

Why did you explore SFU of all places and schools?

“When I came to Canada I explored many different places including UBC and other schools. When I come to a new country I always explore. When I came to SFU in 1990, I could feel a sense of community was missing and I wanted to change that.”

What’s something people might not know about Renaissance Coffee?

“My wife and I are both owners of Renaissance Coffee. My wife came with me from India and then we got married in Canada. [. . .] Renaissance Coffee was first located in the corner of the AQ and only three staff members people could fit in the workplace.”

Why are you fascinated by coffee?

“I have no idea [. . .] it is was something that came natural to me right when I was growing up [. . .] it just came to my heart. My hunch is, I was attracted to coffee because it was part of my destiny and it certainly did become my career and ultimately, my destiny.”

Are there any childhood stories that began your passion for coffee or business?

“My passion for business came to me at a young age and it was something I was 100% certain of from the get go. When I was studying for my Business Degree, I never applied for a job because I knew I was going to become a business owner.”

Who was or is your mentor that inspired you to start your own business?

“I read the book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Dr. Napoleon Hill and this became the essence of my life and my business operations. The key element I took from the book was, in order for success you need to create your own unique idea. My idea was not to just create a coffee shop but to create a little community where people could come together to connect, relax and exchange ideas.”

What is important to you?

“An important thing I have learned in my life, is to treat everyone the way you would like to be treated and not with a double standard. When we don’t have the same standard in giving that is when we have big problems.”

Tell me about your staff, how did you decide to recruit members on your team?

“I have a great team of staff. They know my expectations and I often hire from their recommendations as I ask them, ‘Do you know someone like you?’ as I value their opinion. I look for people to work at Renaissance who can fit into my philosophy, to treat everyone how you want to be treated, to be happy at work, as customers may be stressed and we want them to have a soothing moment at Renaissance Coffee and we want to spread happiness.”

When you are not busy creating your community coffee shop, what do you enjoy doing?

“Learning, I read a lot of books. I also learn when I am at Renaissance Coffee. I look at people and learn from them without them knowing it. I see students and professors working hard and are truly motivated and I say, if they can do it, so can I! It is not easy being a student or a professor and their strength motivates me.”

How would you describe Renaissance Coffee?

“I would describe Renaissance Coffee as a community coffee shop, to get people together, to stop and chat with friends, a warm comforting meeting stop — a kickstarter to your day or an afternoon refresher.”

Why does Renaissance Coffee sell Fair Trade coffee?

“17 years ago, an SFU student brought to my attention the importance of Fair Trade coffee and how it changed lives and this is how Fair Trade coffee at Renaissance Coffee was launched.”

Why is supporting SFU’s education important to you?

“I see students working hard everyday here to achieve their dreams. I know the student life is not an easy life and I would like to help them out [. . .] Julie was one of my everyday customers and became my friend and educated me on the importance of an endowment fund. Renaissance Coffee has already given out five $1000 bursaries to SFU students who excel in their academics and also contribute to their community.”

What is your favourite order at Renaissance Coffee?

“My favourite order at Renaissance Coffee is a Cafe Latte which is my days’ award when I go home. I am the kind of guy who could live on coffee for a few days but if I am hungry, I also enjoy Renaissance Coffee’s veggie wrap.”

Any last thoughts?

“In this big corporate world, I am happy there is still a place for a little guy like me and a community coffee shop. This is not my coffee shop, this is SFU’s community coffee shop and let’s continue together to build a stronger sense of community at SFU.”