Photo by Drake Lowthers -- Peace by Chocolate, founded by former Syrian refugees, the Hadhad family, is doubling in size at their Antigonish factory following a national distribution deal with Sobeys. Pictured is in front of the operation is CEO Tareq Hadhad.

ANTIGONISH: A local Syrian family who was fighting for survival just a few years ago as refugees, is in the process of doubling the size of their chocolate company once again.

After arriving in Antigonish a mere two-years ago, the Hadhad family wanted to bring chocolate, the product of happiness, to the people of their new home and restore their Damascus chocolate business which was started in 1986 and was completely destroyed in late 2012 by bombing.

“As part of my family’s life in Syria, chocolate was a major part of the culture and the tradition,” said Tareq Hadhad, the eldest son and CEO of the company.

The family started making 200 pieces of chocolate each week in their kitchen and started selling it at the Antigonish Farmer’s Market.

Peace by Chocolate, which currently employs about 25 people, is looking to hire another 25 people to keep up with the increasing demand and has started to run shifts in both the day and night.

“We opened the factory we’re in now in September of 2017, with a few people working with us and by last Christmas we has 12-14 people working with us,” Hadhad said. “This Holiday season it’s going to very busy for us because Peace by Chocolate will be from coast-to-coast-to-coast, in a massive national distribution network in partnership with Sobeys.”

In July, it was announced that Sobeys, Canada’s second largest food retailer, would soon be selling Peace by Chocolate through its storefronts and subsidiaries nationwide.

“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be distributed all across the country, but what it really means to me is where Peace by Chocolate could go, there are no limits for our ambitions in the company to increase our presence in the country.”

During the 2017 holiday season in Atlantic Canada, Sobeys couldn’t keep Peace by Chocolate on their shelves.

“They were selling out in a day, in a night. They couldn’t keep up,” Hadhad said. “It was perfect timing, it was a perfect message, and they really helped us in promoting our business.”

Being in a small town, especially one like Antigonish has its advantages for an up-and-coming business like Peace by Chocolate.

“If my family had landed in a big city or anywhere else in Canada it would have taken 10-20 years to build a business the size where we are right now in after only two years,” he said. “In a big city we just become numbers. You can’t start building fast relationships and trust – one of the major pillars of our success in Canada is being in Antigonish.”

Photo by Drake Lowthers
This is the original home of Peace by Chocolate before the operation grew recently.

Hadhad is absolutely grateful towards Antigonish, the people of the town and for the belief of everyone in the country in regards to the level of success Peace by Chocolate has.

Peace by Chocolate now is really a part of the fabric of Antigonish. They believe in the cause, they believe in our core values that we’re trying to share of peace and spreading love,” he said. “The excellent quality products we’re trying to make, at the end of the day it’s all about the taste of the product.

Which he hints is pretty unique as they’re trying to mix all the traditions the family has brought from Syria.

Peace by Chocolate is a proud Canadian company and with their national distribution deal they can now distribute their little pieces of peace to every Canadian.

They started selling assorted boxes of chocolates, molded into Middle Eastern symbols such as the Damascus rose, Egyptian pyramids, and patterns resembling Syrian architecture. Since launching their peace and pride bars, that distribution network has grown significantly, receiving requests from all across the world.

“For the first time ever we received a request from Spain, from Mexico, from Brazil, from Japan.”

Every company must diversify their products or they won’t be able to keep up with the ever-changing social demand, and that’s why Peace by Chocolate is always striving to stay on top of that social curve.

“We wanted to add sweet little additions to our production line, we want to show we’re growing but also taking care of creating unique messages,” Hadhad said. “We create a chocolate bar, but we don’t just call it a chocolate bar we call it ‘Wantaqo’ti’ which is the peace language in Mi’kmaq.”

Their pride bars feature the colourful flags of the LGBTQ community including, transsexual, asexual, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian and gay. The company’s peace bars prove peace is beautiful in every language as the word peace if featured in over 20 native languages, such as English, Punjabi, Arabic, French, Gaelic, and of course Mi’kmaq.

Hadhad truly believes their story, which has been shared loudly and proudly across the country, is ready to begin exporting in the US market in 2019.

In 2017, Peace by Chocolate welcomed more than 10,000 Americans, who came to visit Antigonish to visit with the Hadhad family, take pictures but most importantly Hadhad said was to taste their chocolate.

The Hadhad’s story continues to blossom on a daily basis, Tareq Hadhad was selected as an Atlantic Finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year for 2018 and Peace by Chocolate was chosen by Google to be their Hero Case for 2018.

“There is something very special coming in the next few weeks,” Hadhad said. “It’s a unique case, we were chosen nationally – Google came to Antigonish. Everything will be revealed in the next three weeks.”

On top of working with the partnership with Sobeys, Hadhad said they’re trying to get into small gift shops, the places that are unique in each region because towns usually are identified by small businesses and notes one in particular – Pier 21 in Halifax.

“It really is the icon of immigration. We always try to focus on these places as well, we’re a small business, we love to collaborate with small businesses and at the same time to grow together,” he said. “We celebrate our partnership with Sobeys but we don’t forget about our roots as a small business.”