Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace By Chocolate, had a message for newcomers and the Island business community on Thursday – it’s not where you come from, it’s who you are.
Hadhad was the keynote speaker at the Advancing Island Connections event at the P.E.I. Convention Centre. The event was hosted by the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce’s P.E.I. Connectors program.
Hadhad explained the message arose from an experience when he tried to cross the border into the U.S. to meet the governor of Vermont. After hours of questioning by an officer, including about his life in Syria and why he left, Hadhad was turned away at the border.
"I told him ‘if you care more about where I’m from than who I am, you are doing it wrong'"
Hadhad, 26, came to Canada in 2015 and settled in Antigonish, N.S. Shortly after, his father, mother and five siblings followed.
The family is from Damascus, Syria. In 2002, Hadhad’s father Isam opened the second largest chocolate production factory in the Middle East. Civil war broke out in the country. In March 2013, his father’s factory was bombed by an air strike. Then, Hadhad and his brother were talking on a sidewalk when a rocket exploded 10 metres from them. The next day, the family fled to Lebanon as refugees.
Hadhad challenged the notion of being labeled a refugee.
At the United Nations centre when his number was called out for an interview, Hadhad didn’t respond.
“I said I’m not a number. I said two weeks ago, I was in Syria. My family had the second largest chocolate factory. I was going to be a physician. So, what happened that you are calling me a number?”
In Antigonish, Hadhad’s father vowed to revive the chocolate factory. The family started making chocolate out of their home, and in March 2016, went to the local farmer’s market with a batch.
They sold out in 10 minutes, he said.
In September, the business opened a new chocolate factory in the town, employing about 30 people. The chocolates are now carried in Sobeys stores in the Maritimes.
Hadhad has also been recently appointed to the board of Invest Nova Scotia. And, through his experiences, he knows what newcomers are going through when they are trying to start a business, such as concerns over language and financial support.
“I know it’s tough. And, it’s about fears – of success and failure. It’s normal and it’s legitimate to have these fears,” he said.
But Hadhad added that starting a business is easier than you think.
“Everybody has tons of ideas every day. But what really matters at the end is what goes on the ground and turns into a project.”
After Hadhad spoke, the event moved into a networking session with prospective investors and businesses available for sale.
Diana Xia attended the networking session. She owns Keep Our Balance International Ltd., a food exporter in Charlottetown, with her husband Alex.
She came to the Island from Shanghai, China in April. As a newcomer, she could relate to Hadhad’s experience.
“It was wonderful,” said Xia. “What he said is how I am feeling right now. It’s not where we are from, actually, (it’s) who am I.”
One business for sale is Island Taylor Meats in Montague. After 27 years, Dianne Taylor and her husband Marty are looking to retire. Dianne Taylor wants to see a young couple take over and keep the legacy going.
“It’s time to sell and move on,” she said. ‘It’s grown to a place where it needs younger blood and more initiative.”
The couple officially decided to sell the business about three weeks. This week, they’re meeting with a potential buyer, she said.
Ray’s Tin Shop in Belfast is also looking for a new owner. Ray and Carol McGarry have been running the business for 27 years. The couple says it’s time to retire and spend more time with family. Ray, who turns 67 in January, notes that one of their grandchildren lost their first tooth this week.
“Yeah, it’s time,” he said.
Ray recalled some tough times in the early days building up the heating and ventilation business. But overall, the business has grown to the point where he is now turning away work.
The couple also had a chance to listen to Hadhad speak. They found his speech inspirational.
“He was awesome,” added Ray. “It’s quite a story. We’ve got a great country and a great Island. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”