Nova Scotia

'You can do anything': Syrian chocolatier's success inspires Antigonish

The Hadhad family's success has shown people in the Nova Scotia town that small businesses can succeed in the area, and that people don't have to leave to find work.

'They’ve showed us what people can do here,' says Antigonish mayor

About 200 people gathered to tour Peace by Chocolate's new factory in Antigonish on Saturday. (Emma Davie/CBC )

Chocolate may be the Hadhad's business, but since the family opened Peace by Chocolate in Antigonish, N.S., they've given the town a taste of something more, according to the town's mayor.

"They've given hope in the sense that people can come here and there's a lot of doom and gloom sometimes about our children going away to work or families having to leave to get work … They've showed us what people can do here," said Laurie Boucher.

Laurie Boucher is the mayor of Antigonish. She says the Hadhads have made people realize that new businesses can thrive in the area. (Emma Davie/CBC)

The Hadhad family arrived in Canada as refugees from Syria. Assam Hadhad had run a thriving chocolate business in Damascus and was determined to rebuild his company when he arrived in Canada.

The family started small, running their business from a shed in Antigonish. Now, Peace by Chocolate has expanded into a factory in the town. The business is also planning to hire 10 more employees, bringing its total workforce to 20.

Many of the town's people welcomed and help support the Hadhads when they first arrived.

Assam Hadhad arrived in Canada as a refugee and rebuilt his career as a chocolatier by starting the company Peace by Chocolate. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Assam Hadhad's son Tareq said without the town's support Peace by Chocolate would never have been born. 

"We are saying more thank you to them for embracing us and just supporting us because everything really has happened because of those really lovely people," said Tareq.

It's a success story that's touched a lot of people in the town. Glenda Hamlon is one of them. She started working for Peace by Chocolate four weeks ago.

"To see a family come from a war-torn country and start a little chocolate business in a shed and then have all of this, it just makes you realize you can do anything," she said.

The new factory should increase the Hadhad's chocolate production by 30 per cent from the outset. Sobeys expects that number to grow as the Hadhads and their employees get used to the factory. (Emma Davie/CBC)

The Sobeys grocery chain is leasing the new factory space to the Hadhads. It's part of a deal the grocery giant has struck with the family to sell their chocolate in Sobeys' stores.

The factory space was sitting empty before Peace by Chocolate moved in.

"The biggest challenge was production and being able to have enough production and all the food safety requirements to get the product in the stores," said Paul MacLeod, the vice-president of operations for Sobeys Atlantic.

"We had extra space so we started ... working together to bring chocolate to the stores."

Peace by Chocolate's new factory is almost finished. The company is waiting on a few pieces of new equipment. (Emma Davie/CBC)

After months of renovations, the factory on Cloverville Road in Antigonish is almost complete.

Sobeys expects the new facility will allow the Hadhads to produce about 30 per cent more chocolate. Once shifts are worked out and all the equipment arrives, Sobeys believes production could increase even further.

"We're looking to start in Atlantic Canada in the Sobeys banner and definitely as long as we can keep selling, selling the chocolate and Tareq and his family can continue to produce, we'll look at expanding it across the country," said MacLeod.

"We're really excited to eventually get the chocolates in our stores." 

Peace by Chocolate's products will first be sold only in Atlantic Canada. If the product continues to sell well, it could then be sold at Sobeys' stores across the country. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Ellen Adler lives in the United States and spends part of her time in Antigonish. She said the Hadhads are an inspiration. 

"I think they have spread the right message, that really and truly by using your wit, your intelligence and a tremendous amount of love and devotion, you can do the right thing in this world."

With files from Emma Davie