Tareq Hadhad, founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, is one of seven Atlantic Canadians who have been selected as EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

ANTIGONISH: Tareq Hadhad says this award is something he’d never imagine he’d receive, let alone during such a tough year.

“The whole idea behind even the nomination itself was a true honour for me,” Hadhad, the founder and CEO of his family’s chocolate company Peace by Chocolate told The Reporter. “I was nominated and on the finalists list in 2018, I did not win, however it was truly an honour.”

He remembers applauding all the winners, but also understanding he needed to do more work, he had to more to learn, he had to do business differently, and he had to focus more on his community.

“Between 2018 and 2020, we started doing all of that work, but we had to shut down in 2020 and that was sort of a setback for me,” Hadhad said. “I was really worried about the future of our business, but then I realized there is that fortitude of resiliency and the power of adaptation in each one of us.”

Being stuck was not a setback, but was an opportunity for Peace by Chocolate to grow, as they were able to resurface from the pandemic and begin growing the company again, including opening a flagship store at the Queen’s Marque in downtown Halifax on March 5.

“It means a lot to us being on the waterfront in downtown Halifax, a city where I first touched when I landed in Nova Scotia, a place where I proudly call my home,” Hadhad said. “Pier 21 is on one side of the boardwalk and we’re right on the other side; Pier 21 and Peace by Chocolate is telling the stories from two different locations with the same message; immigrants are there to contribute.”

The former Syrian refugee joins a list of six other Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs to take home the regional title as the EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

“From marine technology and sports nutrition, to sustainability sourced ingredients and specialty chocolates, this year’s winners are on a mission to make a global, lasting impact,” Steve McLaughlin, the Atlantic program co-director said in a media release. “The drive, innovation and value these entrepreneurs are delivering is second to none. We’re excited to recognize and celebrate their achievements in the Atlantic program.”

Since the pandemic started, Peace by Chocolate has made over five major partnerships with national and international organizations, released numerous new products to support Canadians, and enhanced people’s understanding of the role of businesses in social life, and supporting communities.

“Social entrepreneurship is a major part of really making an impact these days, especially at the time of crisis; that’s when you see the impact of it, that’s when you see the meaning,” Hadhad said. “I’m really honoured to have been recognized as an entrepreneur of the year in the Atlantic region.”

The true honour, he said, was joining the list of amazing winners, many of which who have been in business much longer than him, people he gets inspired from by reading their stories.

“I started the business with my family in 2016, many of the people who won the award and were on the list have been in business for decades,” Hadhad said. “To be there with them on the list is truly something I never imagined, they are my heroes. Being on the list does not mean that I have arrived, but it certainly means I’m in great company.”

While he views it as his team’s award, he sees himself as just the spokesperson for the company and am truly humbled to be leading such a team, because without them nothing would be possible.

“I think the reason why we reached this award is because we care more about ROK than ROI,” Hadhad said. “ROI is return on investment, ROK is return on kindness, so we care about return on kindness with every single product we make and with every single interaction we have.”

Hadhad will move forward to compete against peers from the Pacific, Prairies, Ontario and Québec regions at the national awards celebration in November 2021, where 10 national winners will be named, including Canada’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Award winner.

If crowned the overall Canadian winner, he would go on to compete with national winners from across the globe for the title of EY World Entrepreneur of the Year in June 2022.