Local chocolate reaches outer space
When I spoke to Tareq Hadhad, CEO of Peace by Chocolate, I had one specific area of interest. Just how, after less than three years since opening, did he get his chocolate into space?
Hadhad is an interesting man, with much wisdom to share. When I had my chance to speak to him I quickly learned that, “It’s not about the chocolate, chocolate is behind the scenes.” It’s their message that has taken Peace by Chocolate out of this world.
Before getting to space, I wanted to know what it is that got the Hadhads to where they are today.
Amazingly, Peace by Chocolate started in Antigonish in the not so distant past, at the start of 2016. Hadhad’s family chocolate dynasty, however, has a much longer history dating back as far as 1986. Hadhad told me how the business started with his mother and father selling their homemade chocolates, and how they eventually grew to distribute all across the Middle East, from Yemen to Turkey. In time, they were even selling to European countries like Germany and Sweden. He made a point of noting that they “were even sending chocolate to Belgium, the origin of chocolate.” Needless to say, their chocolate business had been quite successful; that is, until conflict broke out.
The original factory was destroyed in the Syrian civil war, and with it, the stores shut down and the distribution network closed. Tragically, Hadhad and his family had lost everything when they left Syria in 2013. After spending three years in a refugee camp in Lebanon, the Hadhad family finally arrived in Canada in 2016. From the start, they believed in the possibilities provided by the Canadian system. Wasting no time, the Hadhad family began selling chocolates in Antigonish soon after settling in.
The delicious treats quickly earned them a reputation in the area and they began to get coverage in the press. By 2017, they had upgraded to a full-sized chocolate factory and were an established brand. Peace by Chocolate was here to stay.
Despite the incredible story of the company’s inception, it takes more than delicious sweets and a family’s dream to explain the Peace by Chocolate phenomenon.
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared the Hadhad’s heartwarming success story at a meeting of the United Nations in 2016, it began to receive international coverage, leading to features on CTV, CBC, BBC, CNN, and even The Xaverian Weekly!
Most recently, Peace by Chocolate has been making headlines for being recognized as a National Hero Case in the Grow with Google program and for having their message of peace shared with the astronauts onboard the International Space Station.
I asked Hadhad just how their business broke the chains of gravity, and he told me about how he’s been making connections ever since he arrived in Canada, and the various visitors his family has received from Canada, the United States, and the greater international community. He then explained the one connection in particular that led to this triumph.
Hadhad told me about a friendship he made with the Canadian/American dual citizen and commander of the International Space Station, Andrew Feustel. He explained how it started by sheer chance, “I was travelling one day to Toronto, and then I saw them at Toronto Airport… And then they recognized me, because they’ve seen me on the media so much, and they came to me... I asked him if it’s possible that we can share the message from space... And he agreed... We couldn’t really be more grateful for that, because they are making our dream true.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s incredibly difficult to get anything onto the ISS. Hadhad told me that he was so appreciative of the astronauts, for their hard work in getting NASA to agree to send the chocolates. He told me a beautiful story of how the pictures that the ISS crew took have impacted his family, “if they travel to any country in the Middle East they are now very well known, about the family, that we sent Syrian chocolate to space. That was the headline on Middle Eastern news in the last three days. It was phenomenal.”
It’s easy to see why the story has caught fire and spread around the world. It would have been so easy, so forgivable if the Hadhads had given up on their dreams after settling in Antigonish; this, however, is clearly not what occurred. Hadhad knew that he had to share his families message, a message not only of peace, but also of personal strength and determination. Hadhad told me what has driven their success, “With us, we have persistence. Nothing comes easy. I know that life is not fair sometimes. The level of discomfort that we have lived, we’ve definitely taken advantage of, and turned it into an opportunity.”
Hadhad glows with optimism. His message is of peace and determination. These days he shares that message in speeches from coast to coast. Luckily, we did not conclude the interview without him first imparting some wisdom on me, “I truly believe that, you know, there are different people on the Earth, and they can follow the ordinary track in their lives but those who will take the extraordinary track or path in their lives, those people will be memorized. Those people we’ll be talking about and those people will really make the change. I truly believe that if you want to make extraordinary stuff, you should not take the ordinary road, that other people are doing... Inside each one of us is a little entrepreneur, that tries always to make things different. It’s your choice to make that entrepreneur out from you, or to keep it inside you.”
Hadhad also shared his advice for newcomers, “At the beginning of the day, we are all newcomers... Whether if you are a newcomer to a University, or you are a newcomer to a relationship, or a newcomer to success, we’re all newcomers at a certain level. But for those people that come to different places, it is their responsibility at the beginning to seek out and share their plans with others. No one will come to them and ask them what they are going to do. It is their responsibility to go out first and write their opportunities. And the second thing is; as human beings we have legs, we don’t have roots, like trees. So, we were meant to move, to find the opportunity. Everyone definitely should look for it... And at the end of the day, I would say, you are in Canada, and Canadians are not human beings only, but they are good at being human.”
The Hadhad family’s hard work is certainly paying off these days. I asked Hadhad what plans he has for the business moving forward, and he was happy to let me in, “we are planning to get to a level where we find a piece of chocolate on every shelf in the country, wherever you go... We are now online, we have our website, peacebychocolate.ca, but we always try to expand our network, not only online, but also in reality. But the major goal for Peace by Chocolate, at the end of the day, is to be one of the top five chocolate companies in Canada in the next short while.”
Peace by Chocolate has shattered all obstacles in its way and by all indications, it is going to continue on that trajectory. It represents many things, but most clearly it is a literal reminder of the sweet taste of peace.
With that in mind, I’ll leave the last words to Hadhad “peace is something very noble, and should not be taken for granted. Because you can lose it in the blink of an eye... Wars can start at any point if we lose our trust in each other, if we don’t understand each other as human beings living on the same piece of land.”