New coffee shop aims to please

January 13, 2005, vol. 32, no. 1
By Carol Thorbes

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“And how are you today?” asks Parminder Singh Parhar, his warm eyes and welcoming smile beneath a bobbing royal blue turban, greeting morning arrivals at his newest coffee establishment on Burnaby Mountain.

A coffee connoisseur since the tender age of 10 in his native Bombay, India, Parhar loves making coffee and conversation as much as he loves drinking coffee. “I am in the business of making people feel happy and pampered,” says Parhar, who has a rolodex memory of his customers' first names.

The former 7-11 convenience story manager's opening of his third Renaissance coffee outlet on campus - this time in UniverCity's new Cornerstone building - was like a Christmas present to himself.

The new building will be the centre point of SFU's new town on the mountain.

With the opening of his first outlet, a stand in the academic quadrangle, nine years ago, and a second stand in the applied sciences building, a few years later, Parhar built a loyal following of coffee drinkers. By 7:30 a.m., they're lined up like filmgoers anxious to see a new flick.

Parhar's newest outlet - a café with a gas fireplace, comfortable chocolate brown seating, a calming décor and a generous patio - is open until 10 p.m. as of January.
The café is the realization of a lifelong business dream Parhar has had since discovering the espresso bar outside his childhood home in India.

“I've always wanted to own my own café,” declares Parhar, who immigrated to Canada 14 years ago. “When I realized that SFU was going to build a residential and commercial village up here, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to start a business that brings town and gown together. People from all corners of the academic and surrounding community can enjoy coffee and get to know each other in a relaxed setting.”

SFU's senior administrators and UniverCity president Michael Geller share Parhar's dream. After reviewing dozens of highly competitive bids from coffee giants, such as Starbucks, to run a café in Cornerstone, they chose Renaissance. “The deciding factors in Parminder's favour were his longstanding association with the university and the incredible level of support which he garnered,” explains Geller. “This was manifested in a barrage of emails, telephone calls and letters.”

After cutting the ribbon on Parhar's newest venture in December, SFU President Michael Stevenson and Geller made way for his loyal followers. In flooded scores of customers with congratulatory hugs for Parhar.

Asked to share the secret of his success, he replies: “I come here everyday believing I can make each and everyone of my customers happy and I believe that makes them come back.” The coffee guru considers no request too great. “We have only one customer who wants a decaf Chai latte. We make it for her every day.”

The meticulous care with which Parhar brews coffee is another secret to success. Through trial and error he has discovered that keeping coffee beans no more than 10 days ensures their freshness. Adjusting the grind of beans to suit air moisture conditions dictated by weather ensures that his espresso is never bitter.

Brewing espresso right in the cup allows Parhar's artful staff to mould crème, an espresso extract, into a delightful crowning glory.

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