Peace by Chocolate pledges to hire 50 refugees, mentor 10 refugee startups

An Antigonish, N.S., chocolate company founded by a family who fled Syria is now pledging to work with 40 refugees and mentor and help develop 10 Canadian businesses run by refugees.

Tareq Hadhad says as his family's business expands, he wants to give back

Tareq Hadhad says he hopes to offer guidance to refugees trying to start their own businesses. (Emma Davie/CBC)

An Antigonish, N.S., chocolate company founded by a family who fled violence in Syria is now pledging to work with 50 refugees and mentor 10 Canadian startups run by refugees over the next few years. 

Tareq Hadhad, who works as CEO of his family's business Peace by Chocolate, said he wants to share with newcomers what he's learned about the logistics of getting a business off the ground — from registration and marketing to sales and distribution. 

"The steps we took since the beginning. The challenges, the cash-flow issues, the grant opportunities that are available," he said.  

"That commitment really comes from a solid belief that the success for one is a success for all. And this country really has given us a lot, so now it's our turn to give back and pay it forward."

In the three years since the Hadhads arrived in Canada, their business has grown from selling boxes of homemade chocolate out of a shed outside their home in rural Nova Scotia to distributing products across the country through wholesalers as well as on the shelves at Sobeys and Safeway grocery stores.

Assam Hadhad officially opened his chocolate factory in Antigonish, N.S., in August 2016. Just a few months later, the family was employing 10 people and was officially financially independent a year after arriving in Canada. (Tom Murphy/CBC)

At the height of production last year, Hadhad said Peace by Chocolate employed 45 people at its factory in Antigonish — a number he hopes to double within a couple of years.

Peace by Chocolate's efforts to partner with refugees will be done on a volunteer basis with people who've arrived in Canada from a variety of countries, Hadhad said.

"Refugees and immigrants, they don't come to Canada empty. Even though some of them they come with low cash flow, but at the end of the day they have skills, they have talent," he said.

First-hand advice about what is involved in the early days of starting a business could build on the ongoing efforts of immigration associations to provide information to help newcomers, he said.

He expects to hold webinars and offer guidance on what it's like to operate in a rural area. 

Eventually, he also hopes to connect four refugee businesses with Peace by Chocolate's distribution and retail networks across Canada so they can sell their own products. Plans still have not been finalized. 

Hadhad has long talked about the goal of employing other refugees to help distribute the company's chocolate.

He made this week's announcement after attending a business conference in Toronto organized by Tent Partnership for Refugees, a New York City-based organization that encourages businesses to hire refugees. 

Hadhad said four former refugees already help sell the chocolates in the Pictou and Stellarton areas. As the company expands, he hopes others will be involved elsewhere in Canada. 

Peace by Chocolate products are now available across Canada. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Tareq's father, Assam Hadhad, was a chocolate maker in Damascus for two decades — employing 30 people in his factory. Before the country was ravaged by war and the factory was bombed, the company used to ship specialty treats across the Middle East. 

The family expected to spend a decade rebuilding and getting to the point where they are now, Tareq Hadhad said. He's come to believe the company has the potential to grow beyond the business in Syria and he's eyeing expanding distribution into the United States. 

"I certainly believe Peace by Chocolate is on its way to becoming one of the major chocolate companies in Canada within the next five years. It is certainly a big dream," he said.

"We are very successful now across the country, but also we need to lift others with us."

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past nine years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca