Tareq Hadhad, CEO of Peace by Chocolate, is always ready to share his family’s story. “I really believe storytelling is so powerful that it can change lots of lives,” he tells me as we begin our phone interview. “There is lots of anxiety in the world right now and people just need to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Since 2016, Tareq has spoken over 400 times about his family’s story which has garnered worldwide attention and is now being made into a feature film, which will be released later this year.
Our tradition … is making chocolate and sharing happiness.
The story begins decades ago in Syria, where his father Assam’s little chocolate factory grew and became the second-largest chocolate factory in the Middle East. Then, in 2012, in the midst of war, the factory was bombed and the family had to flee. They became refugees and were eventually accepted for resettlement in Canada.
The family was paired with a community sponsor group in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. This group took on the task of not just providing the family with monetary support but with social support as well, making sure the family settled into their new life in Canada.
We believe we did not come to Canada empty. We believe that we have brought our skills and talents.
Tareq tells me that they arrived in Canada with “hopes of rebuilding our tradition which is making chocolate and sharing happiness.” So, the family focused on creating an opportunity for themselves in the small town and sharing their skills and experiences, because, Tareq says, “we believe we did not come to Canada empty. We believe that we have brought our skills and talents.”
With the help of the community, the Hadhads started another chocolate company which, as with the first, started small and has expanded. It now employs over 50 people.
Late in 2016, Jonathan Keijser, a director and movie maker based in LA reached out to a friend in Nova Scotia and asked that friend to visit Tareq and the Hadhad family. In 2017, Tareq met with Jonathan. “We have been excited to share our story in many ways,” Tarek says. “But we didn’t believe that it could make it to the Big Screen! […] It really makes me feel like there is still hope in the world and gives me lots of motivation to keep sharing this story.”
While the story of Peace by Chocolate will be told honestly, something very important to the family, the movie is not a documentary. “There are some dramatic events that happen [which] were added,” Tareq tells me. “We wanted to add some interesting events in the movie that would be shared nationwide.”
The movie will focus on Tareq (played by Ayham Abou Ammar) described by the synopsis as “a charming young Syrian refugee [who] struggles to settle into his new small-town life, caught between following his dream and preserving his family’s legacy.”
Everyone should bring popcorn and tissues because they will need it!
Tareq is hopeful that the movie will tour film festivals and is looking forward to seeing the reaction from audiences to “the story of Tareq, the story of the Hadhad family, the story of Antigonish. I hope that everyone will certainly enjoy it,” he says. “Everyone should bring popcorn and tissues because they will need it!”
Welcoming and Kindness
Tareq arrived in Antigonish in December 2015, ahead of his family. I ask him if they ever worried about being able to make a life in such a small town, which has a population of less than 5000.
He answers with no hesitation:
“The main ingredient in that recipe is welcoming and kindness”
“We believe that the power of staying in Antigonish … the story and the success of Peace by Chocolate could not have happened if we were out of Antigonish, for sure, or maybe it would have been delayed for 10 or 20 years, you never know. The people of the town have stepped up to help and support us; to get the company up and running and they supported my family in every single way … and that’s the recipe of success. The main ingredient in that recipe is welcoming and kindness”
Syria and Canada
When many Canadians think about Syria, we think ‘war-torn country’. But it was not always that way. Syria is home to vibrant cultures with ancient roots. “Damascas is one of the oldest cities, if not the oldest capital in the world. It goes back 5000 years in history,” Tareq tells me. “It is really important to share that we did not come from nowhere. We were rooted in a place of culture and heritage and civilization.”
We did not come from nowhere.
When I ask him what he misses most from his life in Syria, he tells a beautiful story about family. “In Damascus culture, people tend to live together, families live together,” he says. “Our family, we had a big building of 10 floors on the border between the modern city and the ancient city. And all of my family members used to live in that building. So 60 members of my family were sharing that building and every Saturday we were getting the supper together.” They would eat together in a giant room his his grandmother’s house. “Families tend to be together and stay together so I miss my family a lot. They are now scattered around the world in 26 countries and some of them started coming to Canada as well.”
Tareq is quick to tell me that he sees similarity between Syria and Canada and it has to do with welcoming others. “Syria opened the doors to many people around the world during wars like [those] from Iraq. Syria welcomed Armenians, Syria welcomed Europeans during the Second World War and the doors kept being opened for people. I didn’t find there is a lot of differences… except the weather, for sure!”
Tareq wants the next generation of his family to know, and for Canadians to know, that the Hadhads did not choose to leave their homeland Syria. “We did not choose to become refugees. This was not a choice. We were forced to. That is the case of millions of people who live in Canada right now. Either themselves, or their parents or their grandparents or their grand-grandparents, they did not have a choice but to leave.” Tareq sees the upcoming Peace By Chocolate movie as one more piece of the legacy he’s leaving for the next generation who will come and ask why they left Syria.
Peace by Chocolate is scheduled to be released in October 2020. The movie is written by Jonathan Keijser and Abdul Malik.
Titles Images Courtesy of Tareq Hadhad/Timothy Richard Photography (Image of Tareq Hadhad) and Topher and Rae Studios (Image of chocolate)
Listen to Lisa’s interview with Tareq Hadhad.