Tareq Hadhad family’s story begins with his father’s successful chocolate making business in Syria, and then the war began and the factory which employed 450 was destroyed in a bombing. The family became refugees landing in Nova Scotia, and after all of this, the chocolate making begins again, with the start of Peace by Chocolate, a company that has gained international attention for its peace-building work after being mentioned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an address to the United Nations.
Tareq, founder and C.E.O of Peace by Chocolate, was the keynote speaker at Thursday's Winkler and District Chamber of Commerce P.W. Enns Business awards gala.
"My dad is a very passionate entrepreneur, because he wanted to create change and he believed entrepreneurship is the path not to make wealth, but to create an impact, and to create change in the community," shared Hadad. " And that was 1986, when he just shifted his focus from being a civil engineer to becoming an entrepreneur, out of nowhere. In Damascus it was a lot harder to start a business, especially around that time, and he just wanted to create something different for the family, because of the generational tradition and conventional path that everyone in the family followed, whether they are doctors, or they're engineers or they're lawyers. He just didn't want to become that employee, the 9:00 to 5:00. He just wanted to do something different, and that's why he chose to set his own business hours."
Hadhad's father Isam instilled that spirit of entrepreneurship into his children from the moment he began his business, which eventually became one of the largest chocolate makers in the Middle East.
"He kept telling us, as we were growing up, entrepreneurship is like jumping off cliffs, and building a plane on the way down," said Hadhad. "He really believed entrepreneurship is a lot about risk taking, about being courageous. It's a lot about having the guts to do things that others really don't want to do."
And having those guts, and being willing to take risks, is part of the story once the Hadhad's arrived in Canada after losing their home and livelihood in Syria. Starting the chocolate making business from scratch literally began at their kitchen table. Tareq arrived in Nova Scotia first, with his family arriving just a few weeks afterward.
"My family would follow me, and then we started that business a few weeks after landing here at a local farmers market," he said. "The whole idea started in the home kitchen, the same way my father had with my grandma thirty years before, and we just felt history was repeating itself."
That first farmer's market saw almost 200 people waiting in line to buy their chocolates, selling out in 15 minutes.
"That gave us a huge push forward to believe dreams do not have limits, and you can certainly build up an empire out of your home kitchen here in Canada like we did back home."
Now, Speaking of getting a big push, it always helps when the leader of a nation happens to mention your business, and the social and philanthropic work you're doing. That's what happened for the Hadhad's and Peace by Chocolate when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted them during and address to world leaders at the United Nations.
"The honour we had, our story shared in front of the leaders of the world, it was not only a celebration of what Canada was able to accomplish by bringing refugees here, but also a testament to how kindness begets kindness," he noted. "When we came here, we needed a hand. Canada lent us that hand, and then we were just very proud and very honoured to lend that hand to other Canadians who were hurting after the wildfires in Fort McMurray. That's when everything started."
The decision to make those donations to families who lost everything in the Fort McMurray wildfires turned into the creation of the Peace on Earth Society and the work the Hadhad's continue today with projects around the world. They have donated more than $550,000 to a variety of peace-building projects.
"We run the company based on values and these values are about passion, enthusiasm, advocacy, contribution and excellence," he explained. "Whenever it comes to my mind we were able to to do all that work, I also think about how grateful we should be to those who believed in what we believe. They didn't think of us as a chocolate company, but thought of us as a cause. That's why our company is called Peace by Chocolate. It starts with Peace. It doesn't start with chocolate. Peace is the most noble value on Earth that everyone should fight for, and chocolate is our product of happiness. I am a big believer, in business, there are two ways, whether you are selfless, or whether you are a selfish entrepreneur. We just happen to choose the selfless part, because I believe it's a lot more rewarding when you really feel you are contributing to causes."
Tareq stressed one of their focuses is to have an impact on their community, both locally and beyond, and inspire others to do the same.
"You don't have to be a giant corporation, a multi-billion dollar corporation to create an impact," he shared. "I think it's not about the dollar value. It's about the record you set for for yourself, for your family, for your employees, for your customers. At the end of the day, the impact is measured by how many lives you are changing."
Along with the company's rapid growth after the mention by the Prime Minister, came an increase in revenue. With that growth Peace by Chocolate has experienced, how has it remained committed to its philanthropic work, and not tugged in other ways because there's more dollars going into the bank.
"It goes back to core values,' offered Hadhad. "Every business has to have core values that are unchangeable, that weather all the storms, that they don't change by the time, because it's very easy to forget your roots. It's very easy to forget where you came from. I believe the best way to think about this is, when you are setting up a company, your goal should not be making money, because you do not buy a car to fill it with gas. The same idea, and the same methodology, applies to corporations and businesses, because you do not start the company to make money. Money is the fuel to the car, right? Money is the fuel to the company. I think your destination should absolutely transcend beyond these dollar signs, beyond your income statement, beyond your balance sheets. Again, the success in entrepreneurship is all about how many lives you are changing, and not how much wealth you are accumulating."
You can listen to CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner's full conversation with Tareq Hadhad, below.
In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, PembinaValleyOnline encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this page and downloading the PembinaValleyOnline app.