ANTIGONISH: “That’s an amazing feeling.”
These were the words Tareq Hadhad used on September 9 when he and his family cut the ribbon on their new Peace By Chocolate factory. The moment represented a long journey and not only in terms of distance.
Tareq was the first of his family to arrive in Antigonish, after leaving Syria. When the country became too dangerous for his family, Tareq’s father Isam closed his business and moved his family to Lebanon in 2013. Tareq landed in Canada in December, 2015, with the five other family members landing in January, 2016.
Upon arriving, Tareq convinced Isam, a chocolate maker for 30 years, to get back into the family business. The family soon began making chocolate and distributed hundreds of samples at a local potluck to get feedback. After a positive response, they began selling a small amount of chocolates at the Antigonish Winter Market. Their first time there, they found lines of up to 50 people waiting for a candy fix. When several volunteers built a facility adjacent to the family’s home, Peace By Chocolate began receiving several positive reviews, including one from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a speech to the United Nations.
Since then, demand went through the roof and the family decided to expand, which led to the new factory.
“We were very lucky to be in Antigonish,” said Tareq. “If we were not in Antigonish, none of that would have happened. [The family] was surrounded by this lovely community, by the people, they were helping support, coming and asking ‘what do we need.’ If you had asked me in 2016 ‘how do you see yourself in 2017,’ I would say that we would stay in that little barn on Bay Street for four of five years.”
Shauna Selig, communications manager with Sobeys, said the company “has a special lease agreement with the Hadhads and managed the renovations to get the building ready for them to take over. It started out as only four walls so it needed substantial upgrades, including electricity.
“We also provided some equipment such as coolers and racks that we had in storage,” stated Selig.
Sobeys vice president of community format Paul MacLeod said Sobeys’ involvement began with Stephen Read, the buy local specialist with the company, contacting Peace By Chocolate looking to get the Hadhad’s chocolate into the company’s stores.
“The biggest challenge was production and… all the food safety requirements to get the products into stores,” said MacLeod. “We had some assets here along with our Big 8 distillery. We had extra space so we started the work of working together to bring chocolate to the stores.”
Tareq thanked Sobeys for their help, noting he feels a connection with the grocery magnate, which started with a small shop, which Tareq said reminded him of Peace By Chocolate’s former production space.
“They have been not only a support, they have also been an inspiration for us,” Tareq said.
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser was also at the event. He offered his congratulations to the family, noting this is no ordinary business.
“To know that they’ve come from losing everything in Damascus, starting in their kitchen, then their basement, then the shed in Antigonish, the community helped build to opening a full scale commercial factory that’s going to be hiring people locally,” Fraser noted. “It’s a story that you couldn’t dream up… It’s wonderful for the family, the business, and the community.”
Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey was also in attendance.
“It really is big deal,” said Delorey. “It’s so fantastic to see the huge crowd here from the community to come and support the Hadhads and the Peace By Chocolate expansion. They’ve been so welcomed by the community and they’re doing so much for the community. It’s fantastic.”
Tareq said there will be over 20 people working at the new factory in the next couple of months, with the holiday season around the corner. They need people as soon as possible, he said, and are looking for applications.
“I think that what’s happening today sends a strong message to the outside, saying Peace By Chocolate has no limit and peace has no limit, so it can go everywhere,” Tareq said. “The reason that we worked really hard to open a factory is to deliver Peace By Chocolate to everyone.
“From the bottom of our hearts, from the whole family to everyone in this to town, to federal politicians, to provincial politicians, to local business owners, to everyone,” Tareq continued. “There are so many people to thank and it’s really beyond the words thank you.”