The Next Chapter

Peace By Chocolate founder Tareq Hadhad tells a sweet story of family, food and fortune

The Syrian Canadian entrepreneur and speaker shares his story of arriving in Nova Scotia as a refugee and building a chocolate-making business with his family.
Tareq Hadhad, pictured, and his family are the subject of the book Peace by Chocolate by Jon Tattrie. (Jessica MacAleese)

When Tareq Hadhad came to Canada, he had to leave his mother, father and siblings in Lebanon. His father had survived the bombing of his chocolate factory and the family had already made a harrowing escape from Syria.

They spent three years as refugees, with little opportunity or hope. But Tareq could imagine his family safely reunited in Canada, and he promised his father when the holidays arrived in their new country, they would feel at home.

The Hadhads landed in Antigonish, N.S., five years ago. Since that time, they built a thriving company called Peace by Chocolate. They are now one of the biggest employers in Antigonish. This past spring, they opened a large flagship store in Halifax and became Canadian citizens. Their story is captured in the book Peace By Chocolate: The Hadhad's Family's Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada by CBC reporter Jon Tattrie.

Hadhad spoke with Shelagh Rogers about his family's journey.

Family ties

"We had lived an absolutely beautiful life in our homeland in Syria, in the city of Damascus. My roots there go back thousands of years. Growing up in Syria, I remember very well the social cohesion aspect of our life was absolutely huge. I remember living in our building that was 10 floors on the ground floor. It was my grandmother and my grandfather on the second floor. It was my family, my parents and my siblings and everyone. The third floor was my uncle's and the fourth floor, my aunts and my cousins and everyone.

We laughed, we cried. We teared up. We challenged each other. But the main message for each one of us as a family was, we are there for each other.

"Sixty members of my family used to live in one building, and every Saturday we used to have supper together in a giant room in my grandmother's house. We laughed, we cried. We teared up. We challenged each other. But the main message for each one of us as a family was that we are there for each other."

WATCH | Tareq Hadhad becomes a Canadian citizen:

Peace by Chocolate founder gets Canadian citizenship

2 years ago
Duration 1:50
Tareq Hadhad came to Canada as a Syrian refugee and founded the socially conscious Peace by Chocolate earned his citizenship with a perfect score.

Home by choice

"I always say that Syria is my home by birth and Canada is my home by choice. I knew this country stands for human rights, for freedom, for supporting immigrants and refugees to start their new lives on this amazing land of opportunity. I've heard a lot of stories of Canadian immigrants starting from scratch like newborn babies.

I always say that Syria is my home by birth and Canada is my home by choice.

"From the moment that I landed at the Canadian airport is certainly when the feeling became a reality. I was treated like I belonged — like I was born in Canada and taken away to the Middle East for 25 years of my life and then brought back. That's how it felt because I was treated like a Canadian. I had every single right to do everything I wanted, everything I dreamed of."

Spreading joy through food

"My father started becoming a chocolatier because he believed that he could create happiness. He believes that he was a 'happiness maker,' as he called himself. Who doesn't love chocolate, right? It was like the easiest way to spread joy and to have a connection with other people. 

It was funny that my father started becoming a chocolatier because he believed that he could create happiness. He believes that he was a 'happiness maker' as he called himself.

"My father opened two shops in Damascus. One of them was on the way to the airport. My mother at that time, 1987, she didn't know my dad. She was on her way to the airport to catch a flight and she wanted to get a gift for her family, so she stopped by the shop. My father gave her a few free boxes of some special pieces he made for his special customers. When her and her family opened the boxes, my dad had inserted sweet notes in each of the boxes that said 'My name is Sam. I don't make chocolate, I make happiness.' And my mother's heart absolutely melted — it was so perfect for her. She came back to the shop and she bought the rest of the boxes. 

"Then she became one of the best customers for my dad. Within a couple of months, my parents fell in love and then got married afterwards, and I was born."

Tareq Hadhad receives a Canadian flag from Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino at the Oath of Citizenship ceremony at The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Riley Smith/The Canadian Press)

From someone to no one — and back

"The word refugee is one of the harshest descriptions for a human being ever. Being a refugee means that someone took home away from you and then you became no one. Losing that sense of belonging was the hardest experience of our lives.

Losing that sense of belonging was the hardest experience of our lives.

"In our homeland, my family owned a chocolate empire that was lost in a war. I was an aspiring physician. I was trying to finish my medical degree. Everyone was involved in contributing to society and one way or another. But in a split moment, everything was gone. No one was born to become a refugee. No one hoped to become a refugee one day. Becoming a refugee is not a life goal. It's not a decision. It's not a choice."

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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