The story of the Peace by Chocolate company is one of success, loss, family and change, and it goes all the way back to Damascus, Syria, where the Hadhad family built a thriving chocolate enterprise—the second-largest in the Middle East. The Syrian civil war brought the 30-year business to a sudden stop when first the factory and then the Hadhad family home were bombed in 2012. The Hadhads fled to Lebanon, where they spent three years as refugees, waiting to find a new home.
Tareq Hadhad is the eldest son and handles most of the company’s media relations. He recalls the stress of waiting to find out where home would be: “I was trying to get my family to a country that valued freedom and human rights, to start their lives again,” he says. “Canada was the destination because it is known across the globe as a country of welcome, of diversity, of multiculturalism, and support.”
It was Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where the family found sponsorship in early 2016, and the nine of them flew across the world to the small town in eastern Canada. They were one of eight Syrian families to settle in Antigonish, and the town continues to raise money to bring more families to safety.
“Immigrants usually pick big cities to settle in,” says Hadhad. “We came from a big city—Damascus has 10 million people—and we wanted to be sure there were opportunities. We didn’t know if a small town would give us this, but we were very wrong. We found a family of 4,000 people around us. All the people in the town believed in us and helped us translate our experiences and our skills to Canada.”
The community welcomed Tareq and his family with warmth and generosity, and the family wanted to express their gratitude; the Hadhads turned to something they knew well—chocolate. They spent a week in February 2016 making their chocolate and invited the community to enjoy it at the Antigonish Potluck. It was such a success that the Hadhads decided to bring their product to the local farmers’ market. The first weekend they went, hundreds of people showed up to sell them out. At this point, the family realized they had an opportunity on their hands. They registered the company under the name “Peace by Chocolate.” From the family kitchen, the company grew into a small warehouse, which the people of Antigonish helped build. It has since outgrown this and is set to double in size again, ahead of the Christmas 2018 season.
“Every culture has a very different concept towards chocolate,” says Hadhad. “Different percentage of cocoa, the temperature the cocoa beans have been roasted to, the fillings used in the chocolate. We try to integrate our tastes with Canadian chocolate. I truly believe food is identity; it’s an ambassadorship for the different cultures this country is built on. It’s a representation of Canada—every piece of our chocolate describes something different, to reflect what this country is about.”
Peace by Chocolate produces boxed chocolates and chocolate bars, as well as wedding favours and seasonal chocolates, like the Pride bars released this past summer. A line of multilingual chocolate bars was launched in May. The first one was called Wantaqo’ti, after the Mi’kmaq word for peace.
For Hadhad and his family, Peace by Chocolate is not just about the chocolate.
“It’s about the message inside each box and on the chocolate bars,” says Hadhad. “We have two major slogans in our company: ‘One peace won’t hurt’ and ‘Peace is beautiful in every language.’ We’ve been carrying this responsibility to be a positive example about what kindness can do, how kindness can beget kindness and how opening the doors for those who are fleeing persecution and war is the right thing to do.”
The chocolates the company produces are diverse in colour, shape and flavour. For Hadhad, chocolate represents a moment of sweetness, of pleasure, easily shared among friends.
“Growth doesn’t happen in a company without the communities and people who support them,” he says. “Like Antigonish—when we are bringing people to work, the town is growing and the economy of the town is also growing. We all grow together.”
Peace by Chocolate is now available in stores across Canada and will be available online through Amazon by December. Vendors interested in Peace by Chocolate products can reach out to the company through the vendor page of their website: peacebychocolate.ca