Since 2004, Yelp has worked to connect millions of people to the best in local business. In that time we’ve met thousands of passionate small business owners, a group as hardworking and diverse as any you’ll find. In this series, we share stories of just some of the people who, through their commitment to building great local businesses, are sustaining the vibrant local communities we call home.
In February of this year, we published Yelp’s list of the Top Chocolate Shops in Canada. After publishing the list I was contacted by some passionate fans of a small Antigonish, Nova Scotia chocolate company to let me know a grave oversight had been made by omitting Peace by Chocolate from the list. While the results of the Top Chocolates list is derived from a Yelp algorithm that looks at number and frequency of reviews and can be tough to crack for a new business, I was super excited to discover Peace By Chocolate. When the opportunity came to spotlight a Canadian business in our Behind The Dream series I reached out to the family of Syrian refugees who are behind this incredible business intent on spreading joy, and building Peace By Chocolate.
Peace by Chocolate opened in Antigonish in early 2016 after Tareq Hadhad and his family escaped the war in Syria. Within a year they were showing a profit and employing 10 people in their small town of 4364 inhabitants. One year later they’ve launched their first chocolate bar, opened a factory, and now employ dozens of people at home in Antigonish and more in delivery positions across the country.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the family’s story to the United Nations in 2016 as testimony to the powerful relationship between communities and newcomers, and to the incredible success stories happening all across the country as refugees are given support and love, and an opportunity to give back to the places that have welcomed them home. I had the privilege to speak with Tareq Hadhad about the family business, to learn more about their incredible story and the passion that drives them to create Peace by Chocolate.
In 1986 in Damascus, Tareq’s father Mr. Hadhad senior was studying to be a civil engineer, but at the occasion of a family wedding he saw how chocolate made everyone smile. He was inspired, and his life was changed by this moment of insight. It meant so much to him to have such a concrete way of spreading happiness. So he started a tiny business making chocolates in the kitchen at the family home.
He learned on his own, crafted his own delicacies by studying traditional chocolate recipes from Europe, China, North America. He married, and his wife was so moved by this passion that this mission of spreading happiness became her own. They became famous in his neighbourhood, opened a small shop in Damascus, and over the years grew this little business based on joy into the second largest chocolate factory in the Middle East. The family employed hundreds of people over the 20 years in which they flourished.
As Tareq Hadhad puts it, this vision of spreading happiness was “not only my father’s passion, everyone in the family had the same passion, we believe in the message in Syria and we shared it while travelling.” In Syria, Tareq was studying to be a doctor but remained committed to this “unique part of us as a family, our major value as a family, spreading happiness. This led us, when we came to Canada to connect the value of happiness to the value of peace. Because we cannot find happiness without peace, and without peace happiness is impossible.”
Finding A New Peace
The war in Syria changed everything. The family factory was bombed out and destroyed. The family escaped the nightmare that had taken over their city and home to a refugee camp in Lebanon, and remained in a dangerous limbo there, separated from family, for three years. Finally, they were accepted among the 25,000 Syrian refugees (out of the 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian aid) Canada committed to bring to safety in our big, cold country.
“We really didn’t choose Antigonish, we came from a city of millions and didn’t know where we were going. During the application process we always thought we would go to Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, we just always thought we would be in another big urban city.
Landing in Nova Scotia, we didn’t even stay in Halifax because it turned out the community of Antigonish had applied to bring a family–strangers–to their small town. And we were lucky to be that family.
We feel like we were born here, and returned. This is a home that really adopted our family and gave us the opportunity to prosper and contribute. We feel like even though the whole country is known for welcoming and supporting newcomers, Antigonish has been special.”
When the family opened for business, selling chocolates handmade in a shed in Antigonish, they had to close after 3 days because they were flooded with orders. People still drive for miles to say hello and offer their support. Antigonish and Nova Scotia are all in on the family’s success.
Peace By Chocolate
The Hadhads originally launched their company with boxes of small chocolates combining Syrian fillings and local flavours like maple and organic honey. This year they launched their Peace Bar, and chose to launch with the word Peace emblazoned on the bar in the local indigenous Mi’kmaq Language.
“We wanted to be a part of any peaceful, reconciliation process and to express our deepest respect and appreciation to the Mi’kmaq people who have welcomed immigrants to their land for hundreds of years, we wanted to go back to the first hand that welcomed newcomers. Giving our first bar to that noble language to honour the language of the land we call home.
Since the time we landed we have made so many friends with Mi’kmaq people and now we are creating bars in all native languages, as well as French and English. We reached out through friends in the community, and thanks to them we had amazing guidance during the process. Without their support and positive response we would really not have the success we’ve had. The first thing we should be thankful for is the support of the leaders of that community who were part of our success as they are part of every successful arrival of immigrants here.”
How Can We Help?
At this point in our interview I have to admit, I’m pretty choked up. So I ask Tareq: How can we help? How can Canadians advance the Hadhad’s commitment to advancing peace, spreading happiness and supporting reconciliation?
Tareq’s answer is both gracious and specific: “We are very grateful that Canadians are opening doors while others are closing them, there is no other country on earth where communities can sponsor and bring refugees. We are so grateful. We feel really [good] celebrating our message and our positive story can help, we are honoured to be an example spoken of by the Prime Minister inspiring 20 million people through the platform of the United Nations. Ours is one of so many success stories. We are just one family. Imagine the thousands and fifty thousand examples. So sharing stories of success can give people the base of thinking about the positive change that newcomers can make.
I’d also love to see another campaign to bring more people who are suffering in refugee camps, to help them get the opportunity to live again. And I would love to see a program for the reunion of the families torn apart across the world.
But Canadians are doing great. I learn so much from the way of thinking here, and we’re so honoured to be here for that. We speak all across the country, speaking about how kindness begets kindness. The fact is, kindness comes back. If you offer fear and anxiety, it will come back. It’s a great lesson to us and to the country. Before we came here we were struggling, when we came here we received such incredible support it inspired us to give back. This is a goal of all newcomers, to hire locals, to work on local causes, to develop relations with the indigenous and newcomers and all people of this land.” Tareq makes it clear, Canadians and newcomers together can build new ideas that bring new life to communities, and teach the world about peace.
Advice For Aspiring Biz Owners?
“I feel small businesses are the base of development of this country, the highest percentage of jobs offered in recent years is from small businesses. If you want to make a difference, start a small business, if you want to take an opportunity and leverage it into change, start a small business. Turn your ideas into something that can benefit the community and it will benefit you. We can travel anywhere we want here in the second largest country in the world, so spread your ideas wide. If you are thinking to start a small business, funding is not the problem, there are so many resources, so much community guidance, the first thing you should think about is your story and how to share it. Speak out about your idea everywhere you can, get people excited, whether its technology, food, transportation, build a story behind your small business. Celebrate the social values that connect people to you.”
For The Love Of Small Towns
As we’re wrapping up, I ask Tareq if there’s anything he particularly wants to highlight, anything that he doesn’t get asked about as much as he might like. He uses this opportunity to lavish a little more love on Antigonish, and to expound upon the power and potential in small towns.
“Around the world we talk about the big cities, and we don’t think about small towns, but they are the heart and the foundation of innovation. People in small towns are forming the type of innovation that will keep the community as one family. Everyone who needs that support will find it. I would love to see more attention paid to small towns in the country, how can we support them, because they have the biggest heart and they are the major part of success of our country. So many influential people came from small towns, they are a great foundation of leadership.
I didn’t choose to land in a small town, but it was the most profound, incredible thing that happened in my life. It gave me the greatest learning of what it means to live in a community and of family.”