'Sharing happiness': Refugee family looks to expand chocolate business in Canada
Friday, December 2, 2016

The son of a chocolatier who restarted the family business in eastern Canada after fleeing war-torn Syria says the future is bright – and sweet.

Tareq Hadhad’s father Assam ran a successful chocolate factory in Damascus, Syria before it was bombed in 2013.

Fearing for their lives, the family fled to Lebanon. After spending nearly three years in a refugee camp, the Hadhad family was approved to come to Canada, and settled in Antigonish, N.S., earlier this year.

After enduring the pain and fear of leaving their war-torn homeland, the family started over – rebuilding their successful chocolate business in Canada.

In an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Friday, Tareq Hadhad says business was good for his father in Syria before the war broke out. “When he started his business in the home kitchen in Damascus he said he loved to see people happy and he knows that everyone who eats chocolate will be happy,” Tareq said, adding chocolate is a symbol for “sharing happiness and celebrations.”

And the family, including Tareq and his siblings, were happy. Only a few years after starting the business, Assam Hadhad was seeing major success: He was exporting chocolate not only in Syria, but to neighbouring countries and to Europe. “We were producing the finest chocolate in the Middle East,” Tareq said.

But by 2012 war was raging in Syria, and the family was beginning to feel unsafe in Damascus. Assam was working at the factory one day when he spoke with Tareq over the phone, saying he feared he was in a dangerous situation. “I said, ‘Please get out of the factory with my brother.’ He said, ‘I can’t, I have an order for Germany.’”

Tareq persuaded his father to leave, and 10 minutes after fleeing, Assam saw a warplane overhead. A day later, Tareq’s father heard the news that the factory had indeed been bombed, and that two employees who had remained on the premises had died. His father was in shock for days, Tareq said. “Every time I asked him a question, he said, ‘everything was gone, everything was gone.”

And start over they did. After fleeing to Lebanon and living for three years in a refugee camp, the Canadian government accepted the Hadhads as refugees.

Remembering what his family members said after he shared the news that their refugee application had been approved, Tareq laughed, “They said, ‘Canada is too cold!’”

Once in Antigonish, the family got to work rebuilding their business, one chocolate at a time.

Now, with orders coming in from across Canada, and interest from the United States, Tareq’s family says they are grateful to the federal government and all the Canadians who have helped them along the way.

In September, the family gained international recognition when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared their success story during a speech to the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the UN in New York.

Tareq and his father also had a meeting with Trudeau in Sydney, N.S., where the prime minister thanked them for their contribution in the community. “We were really grateful for that moment,” Tareq said.

Tareq said it was easy for his family to choose the business name, Peace by Chocolate.

“The world really needs peace and needs chocolate, so we said we can deliver our message by our product.”

And the family is contributing to their adopted home in many ways. In May, they made a donation to Red Cross for relief efforts in Fort McMurray following the wildfires that displaced thousands of Albertans.

“We really (know) how it feels when you leave your house to nothing, to nowhere,” Tareq said.

Tareq said the Peace by Chocolate is growing rapidly since the prime minister mentioned them in his speech, with 90 per cent of their production orders going to Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Once the family is fully settled in Canadian life, Tareq plans to focus on his goal of studying medicine and becoming a doctor.

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Source: CTV News / Karolyn Coorsh

Photo: Tareq Hadhad speaks on CTV's Your Morning on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.