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Building community and compassion through coffee

Parminder and Kamaljit Parhar
Parminder and Kamaljit Parhar

For over 25 years, Renaissance Coffee owner Parminder Parhar has been a devoted member of SFU’s community, passionately crafting exceptional coffee and helping cultivate a sense of belonging for students, faculty, and staff across the university’s Burnaby campus.

Offering not only coffee, delicious food, and a warm atmosphere for connections and conversations, Parminder and his wife Kamaljit also help SFU students striving to reach their educational goals through an endowment they started in 2015. Recognizing students’ meaningful contributions to the community while assisting them in achieving academic excellence, their endowment funds an annual bursary and athletics award that has been enriching students’ lives for seven years and counting.

Parminder shares some of the inspiration behind his desire to give back to SFU and his hopes for the future of the community.

You’ve served thousands of cups of coffee and helped build a wonderful place for people to connect at SFU. Now, you and Kamaljit support students through your endowment which funds an athletics award and a bursary recognizing community service. How does it feel to see your positive impact grow?

It really is amazing because SFU is a community like no other. We have students, professors and staff from all over Canada and the world that I get to interact with and learn from.

I came here with a pretty simple goal: make a great cup of coffee. As my business grew, so did my goal. I wanted to connect people and build a place where everyone felt welcomed—where they could share not only coffee and food but knowledge and ideas. Giving back and helping students in this community that has supported me is a wonderful feeling.

What made you want to start an endowment to give back?

Education really is the key to so much in life, not only to personal growth or financial security, but to our well-being and ability to adapt, change, and to persevere.

I have seen firsthand how students struggle—financially and with stress and anxiety. It is so difficult to keep going. But I’ve also seen the confidence students gain from someone believing in them. When someone believes in you, it’s the most powerful thing in the world!

Although starting an endowment was something I wanted to do for some time, I have to give credit to Kamal, who said, “you just have to do it!” We started an endowment because long after we are gone, the endowment will continue to provide for students—and that is very powerful.

Renaissance’s Coffee Day is an event in the fall that has been going for several years now where proceeds from coffee sales go directly to the endowment. Can you share a little about why you started this initiative?

Coffee Day is inspired by how strong the SFU community is when we work together. 

During the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, it was a really tough time for the shop. Like so many small businesses, we were completely shut down for many weeks. But we knew people were still on campus so we came back and served coffee. Even though campus was practically empty, people would come purchase gift cards and give them to colleagues or their students. That kindness kept people coming in, and kept us going. It was incredibly touching.

Coffee Day builds on that idea. It is a way to show that everyone can be a part of changing students’ lives—no matter how big or small their contribution. It’s about inviting everyone in this wonderful community to join me in making a difference for students and showing them how easy it can be to give back. If a little coffee guy like me can do it, anyone can!

As a longstanding and dedicated SFU community member, what hopes do you have for the future of the community?

SFU is a very special place with so many bright minds. I want to see people throughout our community continue to support one another, to share their knowledge and lessons with each other. It has been my purpose and honour to serve this community and I’ve learned so much through this journey. No matter your station, everyone has the power to make a difference. My hope is that people will find their own purpose and keep sharing generously.

This story is part of our winter 2023 edition of Engage, our magazine celebrating the impact of SFU’s donor community.
To read more stories, please visit the 
Engage landing page.