The Hadhad family has been through harder times in the past few years than most people face in a lifetime, yet they turn it into a positive message each day with every piece of chocolate they sell. 

In Damascus, Syria, the Hadhads owned a very successful chocolate business for over 20 years until their factory was bombed in 2013. They were forced to leave their country and they lived in a refugee camp for three years until they arrived in Antigonish, NS early in 2016. Just eight months later they have re-opened their chocolate business with a new name, "Peace by Chocolate."

Razan Kawar

The message "Peace by Chocolate" is being spread far and wide. Since their grand opening, the Hadhads have had plenty of visitors from all over North America. In the short time that I was at their shop for this interview, they had at least 30 people come by. I saw visitors from the Maritimes, British Columbia and the US. 

It's not surprising that cars were pulling up all afternoon. Everyone was just so excited to try the famous Syrian traditional chocolates featured in media across the globe, including at the recent UN Leaders Summit

Spoon: Could you tell us a bit about how the business in Damascus started? Why chocolate?

Tareq: My father started the business in 1980 in Damascus at his parents’ house. He’s had a passion for chocolate since he was a young child, because whenever people eat chocolate, they are smiling and happy. You will not see anyone eating chocolate and being sad. There’s just a relationship between chocolate and human emotions, and that’s his passion.

So at the age of 17 or 18, he started testing chocolate-making out in the kitchen and his whole family supported him to grow. He stayed there making chocolate for so many years. He moved to a small place in Damascus near a school. The students there loved his chocolate and they started a campaign at the school to support his business.

He moved to a bigger place, sort of like this one, and then he started to export to other countries. He started to export to Jordan, then to Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Yemen, and all these other countries. The business grew very, very fast. We had a meeting in 2010 to try to start exporting to a company in Germany but then the war in Syria started, so the deal could not be made.

Razan Kawar

Spoon: What’s the chocolate making process like?

Tareq: It starts with cocoa beans that we import from Montreal, the same kind that we were using in Damascus. There is a complicated process of roasting the beans and fermenting them. Then we mix the cocoa beans with the other flavours. Then the chocolate is melted, cooled, and melted again to avoid recrystallization, then it goes into molds. Then they are frozen until the next day.

There are so many ingredients, it is complicated when making some that are dairy or sugar-free because they need to be kept separate from everything else. Some of them are sugar-free for diabetics—we started to produce that last month. That was my father’s unique product in Damascus. As he said, he likes everyone to be able to eat chocolate, even diabetics.

Spoon: That’s quite a process, how long does that take?

Tareq: We make a huge amount at a time so from the start to the end of the process it takes seven days. My father does this all week.

Razan Kawar

Spoon: What’s been your biggest difficulty with moving the business to Canada?

Tareq: I think there was no difficulty in moving the business to Canada. I think the main problem was that my father had to get started with no capital. He came here with nothing when the factory was bombed.

If you have to leave the country, you are not able to take anything with you, even the cash that you have in your city. We only took our suits with us. We started like new born babies from nothing. When he arrived here, there wasn’t difficulty because there was so much support. My father didn’t expect that when he left.

My father was also afraid because the Syrian way of making chocolate is different from the western way. When he left Lebanon, he was afraid that people here wouldn’t like his chocolate. But when he arrived here, he went to a potluck in town and he brought around 200 pieces of chocolate, and they were all gone within 5 minutes.

This was a very encouraging start for him. People said to him “keep going.” He thought that making chocolate in the house wasn’t a good idea because of possible contamination, so he said he wanted a certified kitchen. He tried to figure out how to put one in the basement, but it was so small that he decided to move outside to this small shed. 

Fifty people from town volunteered to help—anyone who had something to offer offered it, and then the shed was done after one month. After that, we had the grand opening. That was really a huge turnout for the business.

Razan Kawar

Spoon: When was your grand opening?

Tareq: August 10th. We didn’t think that it would get a lot of attention. We invited a few of our friends, maybe 30, and then 150 people came. The covering by the local media reached Halifax and then the whole country. Since then we have had special orders for weddings, events in Halifax, professional conferences at StFX, and national gatherings in Ottawa and Toronto.

Spoon: How did you come up with the name “Peace by Chocolate”?

Tareq: We were receiving so much attention from the media and so we needed to come up with a name. The whole family gathered one night thinking about what to call the chocolate. We had to change it from what it was in Syria.

My little brother said that you can say “peace” in two ways; you can say piece like piece of chocolate or peace as in world peace. And then, we thought “piece of chocolate” was like “peace by chocolate” and it just came by chance. We liked it, it’s like a greeting. “Peace by Chocolate” instead of “Hello” or “Good morning.”

Spoon: What did the name of the company mean before, in Syria?

Tareq: The Arabic name was something regarding success.

Razan Kawar

Spoon: So you’ve gotten a crazy amount of attention in the media lately, how does it feel to get that much attention and support?

Tareq: It was beyond belief. It was unexpected to get all these things. We have been interviewed 100 times by the media now, 100 times in 8 months is really beyond belief. We also did an interview with a very big media company in the middle east, they are followed by millions of people.

So we are very well known not only in Canada. It was just not something we expected. The thing with being in the media is that now we have a way to deliver our message, peace by chocolate. Being announced at the UN a few days ago convinced us that we are on the right track and it supported our motivations.

Spoon: What are your future plans for the business?

Tareq: Our plans, when we started in April, are completely different from what they are now. Our plan in April was to just make chocolates for Antigonish but now our plan is to distribute all over the country and we have orders from Europe.

We don’t know how or when or where everything is going to happen. So many things happened since we started Peace by Chocolate and I think it will grow very fast, so we need to hire more employees—we have three right now and we need to hire more, soon. I think that this holiday season will be a huge step for the business, so we will try to settle everything before the holiday season.

Spoon: How are people ordering your chocolate from all over and outside of the country?

Tareq: A marketing department in Halifax helped set up our website and our logo. It’s unbelievable, they did a great job. In Syria we were working for five years trying to get a website done, and here in just one month they got everything done. You can google “Peace by Chocolate” now and you will find us and you can leave a message.

Razan Kawar

Spoon: What flavours of chocolate do you have?

Tareq: The main types are dark, milk and white chocolate. We have some fillings like cashew, pistachio, almond, hazelnut, coconut, dried orange, blueberry and some others. Some of them we only do for orders. My father can play with chocolate in different ways.

Spoon: Where can people in Antigonish buy your chocolate?

Tareq: Farmers' Market mainly. Tourists often visit us right at our shop and take whatever is available. But people in Antigonish wait until the Farmers' Market because they know we will be ready with different kinds and flavours.

Spoon: What’s your favourite flavour?

Tareq: That’s a hard question, all of them!

You can order chocolate from "Peace by Chocolate" on their new website. But if you feel the need to drive from Ontario or Montana to Atlantic Canada to visit the shop, you will be in great company.