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Tareq Hadhad
From Pivot Magazine

“Now it’s our turn to lend a hand to those who are coming to Canada”

Chocolatier Tareq Hadhad on fleeing Syria and rebuilding the family business from scratch*

Tareq HadhadTareq Hadhad is the CEO of Peace by Chocolate, one of the largest chocolate producers in Atlantic Canada (Photograph by Timothy Richard)

*This article was originally published on in June 2020 and in Pivot Magazine in July 2020. It has been republished and updated with permission from the interviewee.

Tareq Hadhad vividly remembers the day he arrived in Canada. It was Dec. 18, 2015, three years after he and his family fled war-torn Syria after losing everything—including the chocolate company his father had started in Damascus in 1986—for a refugee camp in Lebanon. Now Hadhad is the CEO of Peace by Chocolate, one of the largest chocolate producers in Atlantic Canada. He also sits on the board of directors of the provincial government fund Invest Nova Scotia.

In 2020, four years after starting out in the family kitchen, Peace by Chocolate had between 45 and 55 employees—the numbers fluctuate seasonally—and the capacity to manufacture tens of thousands of chocolates a day. The company’s products are sold by huge grocery retailers like Sobeys, Safeway and Foodland, as well as dozens of specialty stores across Canada.

Anyone who grew up in North America in the 1980s remembers the old Music Television slogan, “I want my MTV.” But to Hadhad, “MTV” stood for something else: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver. Settling down in Antigonish was never part of the plan. “We were like, ‘Who is going to buy chocolate in Antigonish? Who is going to drive there?’ But we figured out it’s a small world now. What you make in Antigonish might end up in Vancouver in three or four days.”

PIVOT: How did Peace by Chocolate come together?
Tareq Hadhad (TQ): If you arrive in a small town, usually there is a lot of competition for employment because of the lower number of jobs. So we started making chocolate in our kitchen. It was such a marvellous time. We sold it at farmers’ markets and local events. We made chocolate for many, many provincial and national events. Right away we got custom orders. We were wrapping them by hand.

Two months after moving production from our kitchen to our basement, we asked the community if there was any chance to build a small factory outside of the house. That was when we told them we cannot get loans from the banks because that is not a part of our culture, and the community offered us an interest-free loan. We bought the first machine, the chocolate wheel [a machine for tempering chocolate]. We bought some display units. We started designing packaging. We started bringing in tools and building [a factory out of] the shed beside the house. Everyone came to support us.

PIVOT: Is that why you’ve decided to reinvest in Antigonish and build your business there?
(TQ): Yes. We have to give back to the community members who stepped up to support us. In 2017 we had to move our factory into a storefront—it’s now on Bay Street in Antigonish. It’s funny that I arrived on Bay Street in Antigonish and not Bay Street in Toronto, where I originally wanted to be. But the business has been growing ever since then, and we opened a factory in the county a five-minute drive from where we started.

Hadhad with family at the grand opening of the Antigonish factory in 2017Tareq Hadhad with family at the grand opening of the Antigonish factory in 2017 (Photograph by John David)

PIVOT: What else has the company done to give back to the community?
(TQ): We were inspired to start a society called Peace on Earth when there were wildfires in Fort McMurray in 2016. There were so many families leaving their houses and losing everything. My family knows that exact feeling, so we use our products as fundraising opportunities. We have a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, as well as a collaboration with the Refugee Hub at the University of Ottawa, which supports resettlement and immigration services for newcomers to Canada. We have another product called Nitap. Nitap means buddy in Mi’kmaq. We launched the product in 2018 and the goal was to raise awareness in supporting Indigenous efforts. The last one that we started in 2019 was a Pride Bar to support the LGBTQ community. The proceeds of that bar go toward Phoenix Youth Programs, a Halifax-based youth support organization.

PIVOT: It sounds like intersectionality and inclusion are core values for your business.
(TQ): Part of our major core values is to give back, to support multiculturalism, inclusion and diversity as part of our strengths. If we were not given a hand when we got here, we would not be where we are now. So now it’s our turn to lend a hand to those in the community, to those who are coming to Canada.

PIVOT: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned throughout this experience?
(TQ): To be honest, I had lost faith in humanity before I arrived in Canada because of the fighting in Syria. When I got to Antigonish it was like, yes, there is good in the world. They look out for each other. There is so much power in the fact that one life can change the lives of hundreds. The people that started the community group called SAFE (Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace) have changed the lives of hundreds of Syrian newcomers and they changed perspectives everywhere.

PIVOT: What are your goals for the business going forward?
(TQ): There are always goals and I am hopeful for the business to expand. But also I really hope to see that my family, by 2040 for example, or 2050, will win a Nobel Peace Prize. I’m thinking a lot about big goals for our family. We have learned a lot. We don’t call things mistakes, we call them lessons. You are not failing, you just learn.

PIVOT: It seems like it’s really important to you to have a real human element in everything that you’re doing. Is that something that defines a successful business today?
(TQ): I think it’s important for big corporations to take off the dollar-sign glasses and see the world in selfless ways. It’s time to switch gears and steer the world toward being selfless as much as possible because the world is changing every day. Now we are facing something that didn’t exist a few months ago with the coronavirus. You just never know where life can go. So it is very important to not be greedy, to give back, to share wealth and knowledge. When we take care of each other, everyone succeeds.


Tareq Hadhad will be a keynote speaker at The One National Conference, Sept. 12 and 13 in Halifax, NS.