From chocolatier to speaker Tareq Hadhad

When the Hadhad family arrived in Canada along with thousands of other Syrian refugees, they had one dream; to find peace.

For more than 20 years, the family had run a successful chocolate business in Damascus, but it was destroyed in a bombing in 2012. After fleeing Syria, they spent nearly three years living in a refugee camp in Lebanon before arriving in Canada in December 2015.

Shortly after their arrival, they were invited to a community potluck in their new home town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and brought the one item they viewed as a symbol of celebration: chocolate. They made the first pieces in their home kitchen, the same way they started in Syria back in 1986. The chocolates were met with resounding praise by the community.

Their Canadian chocolate business, Peace by Chocolate, was born soon after and has became a prime example of what happens when a community comes together to support newcomers’ dream and ambitions.

The Hadhad family’s story caught international attention when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned them at the United Nations in February 2016.

“Everyone wanted to know what are the Syrians doing? That made me realize it’s really time for me to stand out and send a positive message,” says Tareq Hadhad, general manager of Peace by Chocolate.

A box of Peace by Chocolate.

A box of Peace by Chocolate.

A business built by community in Canada

Although Hadhad dreamed of re-establishing the chocolate business his father started, he thought it would take several years to make this a reality. “It took us a long time in Syria to find a factory, machinery, employees and a business network,” he says. Starting over in a new country meant learning about Canadian business and the consumer market.

Hadhad immersed himself in business books and researched how to market to the Canadian consumer. He found that in order to be memorable, a company needs to build a story behind what they are creating.

“Now is a time that our stories are being shared,” he says. “In a second you can reach 100, 1000 or 1 million people around the world.”

The family, with the help of the community, came up with the name Syria Chocolate for Peace; a name that would tell the family’s story. The name was then shortened to Peace by Chocolate.

The Antigonish community not only helped to name the business, but pitched in and helped the family build the small shed that would become the first Peace by Chocolate shop. “Without this community in Antigonish, really none of that could happen,” he says.

Hadhad calls Peace by Chocolate a true community effort. As a result, he has integrated giving back to the community as a key component of the business. “We were 16 of us in Syria, but when we arrived in Canada we had a new family of 4,000,” he says.

Peace by Chocolate barIn recognition of the community and their new home, Peace by Chocolate named their very first chocolate bar — a milk chocolate and hazelnut bar — Wantaqo’ti (pronounced wan-tahk-oo-di), the Mi’kmaq word for peace.

Hadhad reached out to Mi’kmaq leaders to ensure the translation to the Indigenous language was correct. “There’s nothing nobler than spreading the language of the mother country, the land we have now,” says Hadhad.

Their chocolates are available throughout Atlantic Canada, as well as in Ontario, including Sobeys, and in select retailers in each province. Their products can also be ordered online on their Peace by Chocolate website.

From chocolatier to business leader and speaker

Hadhad says Peace by Chocolate is not just a chocolate company but an opportunity to spread their story and the message of peace all around the world.

In February 2016, Hadhad was invited to speak at a community breakfast. He had never given a speech before and was still mastering the English language.

“I was very afraid, I was sweating,” he says. “It was my first time standing on a stage holding a microphone,” he says. Once on stage though, Hadhad began sharing his experience in Syria and Lebanon and spoke about his first days in Canada.

“After the speech, I realized I was on stage for an hour and 15 minutes,” he laughs, acknowledging that was the moment he realized he had a talent for public speaking.

Hadhad has now travelled all across the country, attending more than 350 speaking engagements coast to coast to share the story of his family and their business success, which now includes a contract with Sobeys.

“I want people to realize how important it is to keep peace in our lives and how important it is to open our doors and welcome people from other countries. I want them to know how privileged we are to live in a safe zone and welcome those who have lost everything in a moment and give them the opportunity to live again,” he says.

With this message of peace and resilience, Hadhad hopes to inspire Canadians and millions of people all over the world to embrace peace. “Peace is the thing we cannot live without,” says Hadhad. “We cannot build businesses without peace. We cannot go to school without peace. We cannot raise families without peace.”

In his speeches, Hadhad gives thanks to Canada for giving him the opportunity to become an entrepreneur. He was recently named a board member of Invest Nova Scotia, an independent board granting economic incentives to businesses. With his position, Hadhad’s focus will be on making startups easier for newcomers like his family.

He uses the story of Peace by Chocolate to show newcomers what is possible to achieve in their new country. “Being in business in Canada has driven my motivation to a very clear path to helping my community and caring about society,” says Hadhad.

Come hear Tareq Hadhad speak at our Halifax Canadian Immigrant Fair on September 7, 2018.