Intro: Welcome to Design Makes Everything Better, a podcast about design as a process for making decisions and succeeding. Today, on Episode #2, Vince interviews Tareq Hadhad, founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, a Syrian refugee-created Nova Scotia-based Chocolate company. Now, here’s your host, Vince.
Vince: Hello. Welcome to Design Makes Everything Better. My name is Vince Van den Brink. I’m a partner at Breakhouse, the host of your podcast. Thank you very much for taking the time in your busy schedule to listen to these stories. We will be releasing a podcast every two weeks, so after you check out this, and hopefully share and subscribe and like, make sure that you tell anybody else that you think may enjoy the subject matter so we can make sure that the story is heard by as many people as possible.
In this episode, we had a great conversation with Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee who created Nova Scotia-based Chocolate company, Peace by Chocolate. It is a truly amazing story of how he and his family ended up creating something which sends a powerful message of peace across the country.
Our relationship with him has been, to date, with the retail space that we designed for him. The podcast is a really great vehicle for us to expand on what people might just be looking at. It’s the subject matter that goes in behind a lot of the things that design can change. Tareq walks us through all of the amazing things that his family has gone through and then the beginning of the fantastic company, Peace by Chocolate.
Then, with regards to the power of brand, man, you cannot imagine the speed of which an amazing story that has really gone to empower a lot of other community groups can then invigorate the product they are putting forward. So there is definitely a lesson to be learned in his story, a brand as authentic as his, if connected to a product which makes sense can be mutually beneficial. He is an amazing guy. It is definitely a story about Canada, the Canada that we all want to be in, and the great people that we can support.
I hope that you enjoy this episode. I certainly did and everybody in the office, here, really has profound respect and admiration and love for Peace by Chocolate. As we continue to work with them, we certainly do continue to grow and, I would say, be better people because of it. Enjoy this episode.
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Vince: Tareq, it’s nice to have you on our podcast.
Tareq Hadhad: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks, so much Vince.
Vince: Our podcast is called Design Makes Everything Better. I think it would probably help if I outlined a little bit about the context of the podcast, and I think it will help frame our conversation a little bit better. Are you okay if I just take that off a little bit and go on a little bit of a speech, and then we can get into it?
Tareq Hadhad: Absolutely. Yeah, I would love to hear from you. This is a brilliant name, by the way. It’s very resonating, and the mooment I was just reading some of the, information about this podcast, I’m like, “Yeah, this is absolutely what I’m into.” I’m really interested in this topic.
Tareq Hadhad: I’m really looking forward to the conversation. Design in the context of the podcast is not just the end result of design, like say, a chair. A chair is the result of design, but in the larger context of design in which we can make something better, it’s a way of thinking.
Design thinking is the process – it’s very entrepreneurial. It’s looking for opportunities where others may not have believed there to be an opportunity. Problem-solving in order to resolve things that may have not been considered before. Peace by Chocolate is such a great example of finding an opportunity in something and working toward making the world a better place.
I think to ground the conversation for some listeners that might not be as familiar with your story. I would love for you, in your own words to tell us the origin story of Peace by Chocolate, and then we can get your perspective on the company and its future from there.
Vince: Yeah. Absolutely. Would you like for me to go for two hours, three hours? You set the limit. I will go for it. [Laughter] No. I would leave a lot about the conversation, but I’m telling you the highlights of the story so we can leave something to discuss and chat about.
Tareq Hadhad: For those who are not familiar with our story, the entire thing just started way in Damascus in 1987. My dad, a year after graduation and a year after he fell in love with the sense of entrepreneurship, after he told my grandmother, well, he’s no longer passionate about being a civil engineer.
He went to the wedding of my cousin. They were really stunned that everyone at the wedding was eating chocolate was happy, and my dad told my grandmother at that time that no one who eats chocolate will ever be sad. So, the story of spreading this sense of joy and happiness is what got our family into making chocolate.
A lot of brilliant moments in that history of our family that my entire family were really inspired by my family’s passion and appetite toward making something new. That’s exactly what entrepreneurship was for them. My mother and my father were living in Damascus. For those who have not been in Damascus, the city is one of the most ancient cities in the world. Vince and the team, you guys had done some research when you were designing our boutique in Halifax.
The entire culture there is all about uniqueness; it’s all about going back in history; it’s all about sharing because it is the identity that Syrians are very proud of. At that time in history, our family decided to be leaving a legacy of spreading happiness. That’s when the company started in Damascus.
A quick story, short, that whole history of making chocolate in the Middle East really got our family to build the second-largest chocolate facility in the region that was exporting everywhere in the Middle East, through Europe. In 2012, when the war started in Damascus, my father was like, “I’m not going to leave our homeland. I’m not going to leave the factory that I worked so hard to build. I’m not going to leave everything behind because my family built that with blood, sweat, and tears.”
Like every entrepreneur, these businesses and these enterprises become the passion, become like part of the family, like having a new kid. When you start a business, it’s like having a newborn baby. You take care of it; you nourish it; you are happy with how it grows over time. That’s exactly the feeling that my family had.
Unfortunately, in 2012, our factory was bombed by a near strike by the end of the year. It was after our entire family had left Syria. Many of them went missing. Many of them were arrested. I have many family members that just disappeared in the war. We still don’t know anything about them.
By the end of 2012, the factory was bombed, and it was then the moment that it disconnected us from our home country. It disconnected us for the reason we were like – we lost the factory in the most powerful explosion in the world. A few months after, my brother and I were walking on a sidewalk in downtown Damascus in our second house after we lost the first, and the mortar racket hit near him and me. So, I carried my brother after he lost consciousness.
I ran into the house, and I told the family, “This is not the time to do business.” I was going to medical school at that time in Damascus, and I was like, “This is not a time to do medicine. This is a time to survive.” So, all my family, at that time, left Syria in 2013 and went to Lebanon. In Lebanon, we are like, “What are we going to do now? We cannot go back to Syria. We cannot start a business in Lebanon. We cannot live our lives,” and we became called refugees.
That was the hard word that our family had to live by every single day since we left our country until Canada in 2014. By the end of 2014, there was an opportunity for us to apply to travel. I applied to travel and come here to continue my studies. Then, suddenly, the Embassy said, “Your entire family is invited with you.” So my family were really excited and were like, “Where are we going to travel?” I’m like, “Guess.” My father was like, “Oh, are we accepted to go to Sweden?” I’m like, “No.” My mother was like, “To Germany?” I said, “No.” They tried every country on earth, but they did not say Canada. I’m like, “We are travelling to Canada.”
Vince: This wasn’t their last choice, though. Right?
Tareq Hadhad: I cannot say that, but after I said Canada, they were like, “But Canada is too cold.” This was their nightmare. They were like, “We’re going to the North Pole.” I’m like, “No. We don’t have to be at the North Pole. I know Canada is too cold, but it has wonderful, warm-hearted people around there that they are accepting newcomers and integrating them into the society.” And everyone was excited at that time.
After that, six months after that conversation, my plane arrived in Toronto. I arrived here on December 18 in 2015. I’m celebrating my fifth anniversary in Canada, and it is super exciting. But I landed here – I travelled to Nova Scotia. I came here not because I chose Nova Scotia. I didn’t know a lot about the province before I came here, but because Canadians have chosen and picked that.
If I had the opportunity to choose again, I would certainly be more than happy. This is a brilliant province, warm-hearted people, friendly environment. My family arrived then, and then we started a chocolate business in Nova Scotia. We call it Peace by Chocolate for the reason that we wanted to spread peace, we wanted to spread joy, but also, we wanted to give back to the country that became our family over the years.
Vince: It’s a powerful story. What is it that you think is so universal about the story that has helped so many Canadians connect with it?
Tareq Hadhad: I think everyone desires to understand what can happen when you lose peace because everyone understands the value even though they don’t really know that it exists. Like we are talking today, and we did not just talk anything about peace until we set this conversation and talk about the company. It is that thing that exists, and we don’t notice until it leaves or until we lose it. You don’t notice that until, “Yeah, we’re living in a war. We cannot do anything. We cannot build businesses. We cannot go to school. We cannot do anything without peace.
And that is, I think, what has connected Canadians to our story. At the end of the day, our story is like one of thousands, and we’re really proud. I got a birthday, a video from the Prime Minister two months ago, and he was telling me my story is the story of Canada. That really opened my understanding that this is so lovely, and this is so amazing to know that this country has been welcoming immigrants over the years. But also, we have to do more because we have to give back to the country. We cannot just sit down and say, “Okay. We have arrived home. We are safe.” No. I think our responsibility is much bigger.
I think there are many layers to this story, Vince, that really goes way beyond chocolate. Chocolate is, again, our tool, our ambassadorship, but I know wherever I go in the country now, I’m known as the Chocolate Guy. I was in Toronto last year. I was sitting in a restaurant in downtown Toronto, and a little guy came to me, ten years old, a little boy. He goes, “Are you the Chocolate Guy?” I was like, “I would rather be known as the Peace Guy.” I’m happy with the Chocolate Guy, but I also want to really leave the legacy that we are a family of peace.
Vince: Yeah. It’s an old story, but it’s a new one that I think Canadians can connect with because it’s looking to the future. It’s something that’s happened recently in the context of all the challenges that we face in the world today. It is just such an uplifting, positive story that people can identify themselves as the best Canadians can.
Canada does, unfortunately, have stories of racism and isolation. It’s always a part of our history that nobody feels proud about, and to have your story come out gives us an ability to look at a way of being that’s today. It’s the way we have been; it’s the way we’re looking forward.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. To that point, I’ve been asked a lot about this. Like, I’m a newcomer, and they’re always, I’m happy, I’m smiling, and I’m sharing all of this positivity about this is really a beautiful country, and I’ve learned a lot about the history of this country because as a newcomer, I was really excited and interested in learning more about the country and the land that I call home now.
I learned all about the sufferings of many people, and I’ve learned about the sufferings of indigenous people, and about residential schools, and about racism. But when I got my citizenship earlier in 2020, and I was asked, “I’m so proud to be Canadian, for sure. It’s the biggest honour of my life.” But I said clearly that when I became a Canadian citizen, I did not just sign up to the country’s excellence. I also own its mistakes and failures. This is part of me. When I say I’m Canadian, I take the good stuff, and I also take the stuff that is challenging – the stuff that needs to be worked on.
Since we opened the company and since we launched the business, the first partnership we did was with indigenous communities, especially with Mi’kmaq communities, and we called our first chocolate bars Wantaqo’ti. That means peace in Mi’kmaq because we know that there’s nothing nobler than sharing our language, sharing our message, sharing our mission with the mother tongue of the land that we’re on. So, we have to honour all of those that have been way, way before us here on this land.
Vince: It is my favourite packaging that you’ve done – the peace bars where each language that you’ve picked is what you see in its original script, and then the translation in the phonetics at the bottom corner. It’s really powerful. It’s probably the most universal line that you have that anybody can connect with. It’s great. It’s such a powerful message that way.
Tareq Hadhad: And we live in a diverse country. That’s why, our Peace Bar Collections, they have more than 24 languages, and they are growing. We are adding languages every month, and we are celebrating all of these diverse languages. The brilliant thing about this is whoever you ask on the team: what does peace mean in German? What does peace mean in Spanish? What does peace mean in Arabic, in Hebrew? All of them would tell you. We do a test for all of our stuff. They have to know the meaning of peace in each language, and this is the brilliance of it.
Vince: What you would describe to me as the meaning of peace and how that connects with you. It has to be different from my understanding and belief systems around it, I’d imagine, just because of your personal experiences.
Tareq Hadhad: It does. It certainly has different understandings between each experience. Even for me, before the war, peace for me was just not living in war and not living in violence because the tensions in the Middle East have been there even before I was born. It’s been decades and centuries. When I was born, I was like, “Yeah. We are living in peace.” Since I was born, it was like there was no war. I did not really live a war until 2012. So, I’m like, “Yeah. We’re living in peace.” But I was wrong.
I was wrong. Peace is not only not living in war; it’s not only not feeling the tensions. It is that state of mind in the beginning of am I really satisfied with what is around me? Am I really feeling that the environment is supportive? Am I really feeling that people around are understanding each other? Am I really feeling that these different ethnicities or religions within one country are living together with harmony, with all of this amazing cohabiting with each other in one country is phenomenal.
But also, we have to understand that people are different, and with difference always comes misunderstanding. I know that in Canada, they always say our difference is our source of strength, but that’s because, in Canada, so many people really understand what does it mean to be different? So many people understand that. I came from the Middle East. I don’t have to share the same culture when I come here. I have my own culture. No one asked me to take off anything of that culture when I came here.
The same thing was in Syria, but there was something missing, which is people were living in circumstances that led them to switch their value of peace to have freedom. I think they wanted freedom and to regain peace. At that time in Syria, people did not have freedom, and no one was even free to have their own opinions. Everyone was really scared to share who they are. Everyone was scared to tell others about their political opinions. Everyone was scared to tell others about what their interests were.
It was like a dictatorship. Living in dictatorships – that’s the meaning of understanding and the understanding of peace is we’re not living in war, so the country’s peaceful; it is great. And I have to say that Syria was really safe. If we are talking about peace as safety, yes, Syria was safe before the war. You can go anytime you want. You can celebrate your own traditions, but then, with the absence of freedom was the fuel that really ignited the war in the beginning in 2012.
My understanding of peace right now and the conclusion that I came to is, it is the noblest thing on earth that everyone should fight for and should fight for peacefully because, again, without peace, I have really to repeat this because this is my tagline. It is, without peace, no one can go to work; no one can build businesses; no one can go to school; you cannot raise kids; you cannot build a family; you cannot do anything without peace, and we could not have done this podcast without peace.
Vince: Yeah. It’s fundamental to being human.
Tareq Hadhad: 100%.
Vince: In the business of Peace by Chocolate and how you’ve partnered with other cultures, community groups, there’s a long list of other partnerships that you’ve had. I’m curious to just dive into some of the business sides of Peace by Chocolate. How do you find the partner that’s right for you in what you do?
Tareq Hadhad: I call it The Social Wing of Peace by Chocolate. It started first in 2016 before even the business was registered officially, and I’m not sure if – Canadians should always remember the wildfires that happened in Fort McMurray in 2016 in Alberta.
Tareq Hadhad: And there were like hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs, who lost their work, their kids were out of schools; it was disastrous. My family and I were watching the news. We were watching national news that night, in May, I remember. And my parents were tearing up. We were seeing Canadians fleeing their homes. They were really frustrated and disappointed, and they were really sad that this has happened to them. We’ve said, “We have tried this feeling.
It was a point in our life when we were like, “We have lost everything,” and we were forced to leave our homes. So, we were like, “We are now in Canada. We are living in the Atlantic Region. We have the ability to do something about it even though our business was really small. We were just standing at the farmer’s market here in Antigonish and Glasgow and Malibu.
We were like, “Our business is just starting.” We were like, “What can we do? What can we do? It doesn’t matter how much we can do, but also, it’s our ability that we are now safe, and we are living in peace. How can we give back and contribute to Canadians who have opened their arms to contribute to our arrival in Canada?
So, we donated our profit in May 2016 to Canadian Red Cross to support the relief efforts to help those Canadians who lost their houses – lost everything. Then it was the idea that yes, that was the one-time initiative. Let’s make it more organized. So when the company was less formerlly established, we have said that “Let’s look into people with causes. Let’s do, you know, contribute to everything good in this country. And that’s really that fundamental part of our partnership says, “Whoever is doing good things in the country is our right partner for Peace on Earth Society, whoever they are.”
And we started with many partnerships at that time. But, at the end of the day, let me just explain to the listeners that our Peace on Earth Society that you can learn more about PeacebyChocolate.ca. We donate at the end of each year 3% to 5% of our profit, our proceeds in the year to many organizations. Many people email us around the year to support these causes.
So, we have this calendar, but we have five major partnerships on the Peace on Earth Society that we have specific products. So those who are familiar with our products would know that each product has a different message. We have proceeds go to different causes. So, for example, we have a chocolate bar called the Peace of Mind, and we have partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association, CMHA, nationally in Toronto – also, in the region of offices that they have – regional initiatives to support and fundraise for mental health initiatives because we believe that not only one in five of us has mental health; it’s five of five in us has mental health, and we have to support these causes.
Vince: Yeah. In the realm of social entrepreneurship, it’s clear in so many cases now, and it’s really opening up a lot of the minds of consumers that they can attach themselves to specific brands because they know that there’s a bigger good that’s following from the loyalty that they might have in a particular brand.
And also, come full circle, you’ll do well when more people are recognizing the good that you’re doing as well as the associations, the charities that, or the community groups that are benefiting from the sale of your product. So it’s a nice full circle; everybody can win out of something like this.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. And that comes back, Vince, to the way we do business is we know that any brand in 2020 and after that, it’s about solving. It’s not about selling. Brand is about solving; it’s not about selling. Right? So what cause are we solving and that we are really focusing on at a certain period of time? That’s really what matters.
It’s not only about, “Yeah. We sold a million chocolate bars that year.” That’s really not the metric that we use to measure our success. Our success at the end of each year is what impact did we make as a company? How many lives did we change?
Vince: A brand is really the vehicle that allows businesses to communicate. So a brand can show itself up on a package or in a retail space. I’m curious about what you have seen over the years, maybe your perspective has changed with regards to how your voice, your brand voice – I don’t necessarily mean you specifically as a speaker, but in Peace by Chocolate, how it’s showing up on your website through other social media channels. Is the voice working? Are people, would you say – we’re going into a store, say to go to Sobeys or something –
Tareq Hadhad: Right. Right.
Vince: And they find your bars. How is that connection working, and is it working?
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, we came to a market in North America that is saturated with commercialism, and everyone goes to some grocery stores to just buy a chocolate bar. They don’t even read the packaging. They don’t care about what’s on the packaging. Because people are busy, to be honest with you.
When I came to Canada, it was like, how can we translate. It is very hard because we have very much real estate on these packaging’s to tell our story. Like, we don’t have much space. You cannot share ten lines about your story on a chocolate bar. It is impossible. Right?
Vince: Yeah. Yeah.
Tareq Hadhad: For us, it was really how can we make you just pause? Just pause for a second and let them think, even for a second. Between 2018 and 2019, I lived these two years at the airports. I was flying all the time between regions and watching people. How are they reacting to our products? Just from behind.
Tareq Hadhad: I was just standing there, and when they arrived to our product, and they see these colourful wraps, some of them picked up those wraps, and they were like, “Oh, this is really interesting. This is different.” So, I’m like, “Yes. We hit that point.” Checkmark – difference. We are very unique. Yes, we are unique.
Are they really interested? Do they have enough time? That was really the hard part, and we started working on that. It’s like a chocolate bar with a peace language. If I don’t speak the language, I don’t know what that is. Right?
Tareq Hadhad: If I don’t know what that language is in Arabic or in Punjabi, or in German. I’m like, “What is this? I don’t really understand it” until, really, I have like two more seconds to figure out there is a translation for the word and the phonetics of it. We have realized that maybe the first time they did not have time. The next time they did not. But the third time, it would be like, “Wow. This is really cool. Okay. Let me understand more. Give me something. I will understand more.” And they started, and we know that change takes time.
Like you cannot really change the habits of consumers overnight. It takes years and years, and we are really proud of what we have done only in a short period of time of changing some of the habits because, you know, as a local business in Atlantic Region, for example, our major focus as a market, we have realized that, we can do more. So we created another series of dark bars with cashews called Forgiveness series. Clean the slate. Kiss and make up. Bury the hatchet. Forgive and forget. Turn the other cheek. All of those concepts are all around forgiveness, and it all leads to peace.
So, yes, to your question directly, I think that the brand itself was easy to communicate. All people started realizing: what does peace mean for us? We have arrived in Canada. We have restarted. We have reestablished ourselves. We are giving back so our kids don’t live the same experiences that we lived in Syria because peace can be lost in a blink of an eye. Peace can be lost in a split of the moment; every blessing that we have can be lost, so we have to be grateful every second of every day to what we have.
At the end of the day, I think Peace by Chocolate has started with very modest packaging. We were just using these little tiny boxes that we get from wholesale stores, and then we developed our own branding in our own boxes because we wanted to have our own identity in the market. And then we have upgraded our logo; we have upgraded our slogans, our visuals, and then the Peace bars came.
Then we have added to that series, and we added the Pride bars, we added Peacemaker, then we added Peace of Mind, and we added many others. Now, we have more than 50 SQs in the company that we really work hard every day to communicate these messages. But the work is still going, so I have some homework to do by the end of 2020, early 2021 to go and analyze what worked, what did not work, and filter all of those and add the new partnerships and new products.
Vince: In terms of other vehicles that you have for getting your message out, I’ve seen recently – it was new to me when I started to look into a bit more on your website, and so on since we first met when we were working on retail space. You’ve really done a lot of speaking, and you’re very active in public speaking, and your book.
Tareq Hadhad: The official release date for the book was in October, and I have to tell you that we have sold out five times since then. Well, I understood the business in Canada differently, I guess. You cannot have a message when you don’t have a voice. You have to have a voice if you have a message. Or how are people really going to know it? How are people really going to care about it? And if you don’t have a story, go create one. It’s that simple. Right? Create one and share it. This is a responsibility for each person, and this is the mission for each human being on this planet.
So, when I came here, I’m like Canadians need to hear that story, and if I don’t speak, no one else is going to speak. I have my own story that I’m really proud of – nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be hidden. Every Canadian really should know about our story. And I took that as a personal responsibility.
You know, my family, they’re really excited about sharing what we had to live through in Syria and Lebanon, coming here. The mission, the vision, the messages. You are in a new country, and you feel that you have a responsibility and a voice to share, why not?
The first speech I did was in Antigonish and I had no idea what I was going to speak about before I touched the microphone, but I spoke for almost an hour and a half at that time. I’m like, “Wow. Where did that come from?” I was very surprised with myself. I’m like, “Yeah. I have a lot to say.” It has really evolved from there, and I’ve done hundreds of speeches after that. But now, during the pandemic, I should stick to online speaking as well. We also have other major marketing pieces coming out next year – the movie that was filmed based on our story earlier this year. Real actors.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. They were acting about our story. But also, the book, there’s a reason for the book. Especially when I was telling the story a lot in the media, sometimes, I did not have the ability to control and fact-check some of the information, and some of the information was misleading, and it was just wrong.
And this is really the tough part of living in this time when everyone can be a reporter on social media, and they take parts of the story, and it just changes from one post to another – copy/paste. So it was like, “Yes. I have to do a book. We have to record our details in a book so it can be a living document for our story.” The book is version 1.0. We will have 2.0 coming soon in the next five years. So, just to tell you.
Vince: That’s great.
Tareq Hadhad: Okay. This is what happened next in the story.
Vince: I’m curious. Of all of the people you must have met in your travels and interviews, is there something that you hold as a truth that you feel others don’t share in the conversations that you’ve had with people?
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s why I speak to people. That’s why I travel is because I wanted not only to speak to them, but I also wanted to learn from them so I can speak at the next event about something to cover this gap. Each person has something different. Each question that I’ve gotten when I was speaking has added a lot.
It was mainly when I was travelling and meeting new people. It was for them to understand that immigrants don’t come here to take, but they are here to contribute. There was that narrative when I came to Canada. I know that 99% of Canadians are really amazing; they’re supportive. The point is not really changing the minds of the 1% left now.
The main focus for us was continuing to share what we have regardless if we will have 100% belief in immigration or not. This was not the goal. We will never reach that anyway because people are different. Some of the same things I see – grey. You see it in a different colour; you see it in different ways, at a different angle.
It’s all about the taste of life. I see immigrants as contributors to the country, and I’m really proud to be one of them. As some people are like, “No. It’s all based on personal experiences,” I guess too because no one was born pessimistic. No one was born frustrated. It’s the culture. It’s society. It’s a grown-up problem. Whatever you are surrounded with, this is how you are going to be shaped until the end of your life.
I hope that all my speeches, any of the interviews I’ve done, even a tagline or a line that I’ve said in a radio interview one time. We were driving – listen to me. I have that changed. Some of their understanding about newcomers and immigrants and tell them there really is a good part of that. We are here to contribute. We are here to build societies and be real Canadians. We are here to give back. That’s why we came here. And during the day, giving back is another pillar of our Peace Foundation.
Vince: Yeah. The 1% that you’re talking about that has that negativity, I’d like to believe – maybe it’s just the optimist in me, but hopefully, a rational one – that what you’re trying to do is fundamentally change some of that. If we see an older man or woman that’s grumpy and angry; we just brush it off as it’s just their environment. They must have had a hard time.
But when we see a child angry and really upset or frustrated, we think that there’s something in their environment that we can change. There must be something because you’re too young to feel angry. To accept that if you’re old, your angry, but that’s okay. I’d like to think that what you do is hopefully going to transition those into being even marginally better. It’s better than just staying angry.
Tareq Hadhad: Like anything else in life, whatever you learn, you can unlearn. So whoever learned to be sad about a certain group of people or whoever was born to hate, to be a bigot, and because of the society, because of the surroundings, because of a family culture of a certain sort of kind, I think you have the ability to unlearn this stuff. Unlearning comes from educating yourself. There’s no reason for ignorance in 2020. You have the internet. Go surf the internet, and you will learn.
Vince: Yeah. What’s great is what you’re talking about is increasing the motivation to search on the internet. It’s a high motivator to want to eat chocolate, to want to pick up chocolate. And then learn a story about peace is actually serendipitous that you can benefit from both. What is the goal for Peace by Chocolate? Where do you see Peace by Chocolate in the next five years? I think I’ve heard you say, or I may have read, that you hope to be one of the top five chocolate companies and all of the benefit that comes from that from the goals that you’ve outlined are, of course, going to benefit from that. Where do you see Peace by Chocolate in the next five to ten years?
Tareq Hadhad: Back to my grandmother when she was telling me all this stuff. “You have to know where you came from anywhere in life to know where you’re going.” So, we came from an understanding that business is about change, and we have started that business. We were really hoping, and we were really targeting to be one of the top five chocolate companies in Canada by 2022.
Certainly, with the pandemic now, because we had to shut down, and we had to restart and recover again, now we’re on the way, hopefully, to recover again. I always had that passion to see Peace by Chocolate really one of the top chocolate companies in the country, and I see that developing. The first half of 2021 will give us a clear picture about when is that going to happen and what is possible to do that?
But when I always reflect on my father’s comments when he arrived in Canada – three weeks after me, my family arrived. I was in Halifax airport, welcoming them and translating when all the community of Antigonish drove to the airport. A CBC reporter was at the airport at that time, and she was asking my dad, “What do you want to do when you are in Canada, let’s say a month from now? What do you want to start working on?”
My father told her very interestingly in Arabic, which I was translating. He was like, “Maybe like in Syria, we will start a business and register, and maybe we’ll have a factory in ten years.” I’m like, “Wow, this is really long.” I asked my dad, “Is that really what you want to do in ten years?” He was like, “Yes. It took us ten years in Syria to register our business, to trademark the name, to have a full-time staff, expand.”
We were really surprised. We started the business within two months after arriving in Canada. In two months, we had the business registered. Sales channels started to open. We had people reaching out to us, asking for custom orders. We did many conferences in Halifax where we sold our chocolate only two months after arriving.
So, we knew that we are up to something, and we knew that we can really grow beyond and much faster than what we did in Syria. That level of expansion that we have right now in growth that we’ve lived in Canada only three years, it took my family in Syria almost 15 years to do it. So, I really believe that we can build on that, and we can expand furthermore. But, at the end of the day, the size of the company or the metric that we use is not really – are we really one of the top five chocolate companies? Are we selling 100 million dollars of chocolate a year? This is not what we use to measure our success.
Vince: Right. Yeah. That makes sense.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. It’s about what did we do in the community? How many partnerships did we do? How many lives did we change by donating to these causes that we are working on?
Vince: Your efforts and sharing your message and really communicating that there is still somebody in the factory who is packaging.
Tareq Hadhad: Oh, 100%
Vince: There is still somebody who is turning the lights on in the morning. Both go together. They’re not isolated from one another.
Tareq Hadhad: That’s why it’s called social enterprise.
Vince: Yeah. 100%.
Tareq Hadhad: There is a part of it that is like a regular business. We have payrolls; we have staff; we have receivables; we have payables; we have all kinds of commitments that we have to fulfill as a business. I am fully aware of that as the CEO of the company, and also trying to grow the business, the chocolate side of the business very much as we are growing these partnerships because they go alongside. You cannot separate them.
Vince: Yeah. What is one of your biggest pain points in the business that you want to solve?
Tareq Hadhad: I think there are many, certainly, like challenges in operations, always in any business and any new business, which is very healthy. If you don’t have these challenges, that means you’re not growing. This is all about the journey, which is finding solutions. Running a business in a remote area in Nova Scotia – we are in a rural community.
Our factory is on Cloverville in Antigonish. We’re not really in the center or a hub like Halifax or Toronto, where we can get our supplies there within the hour. We have to solve all of that. We are very distant. We have to get all of our supplies from somewhere in the country. We mainly focus on Nova Scotia, but we also have suppliers in Ontario, and even British Columbia, and in the U.S.
As I mentioned, we mainly focus on local suppliers, but also getting stuff here, make them, and then ship them out. Especially running that business can be challenging. But as I mentioned, it’s all about the first steps like a newborn baby when you start the business. Then when you plan accordingly, when you know the timelines, when you have ideas, and when you have strategic planning set in place, things become much easier.
I would say that I don’t focus on that pain or the stress when I wanted to remember how grateful I am and just go to my inbox and really read all of those positive, lovely messages that I get, for example, from a healthcare worker in Calgary. We ship chocolates to healthcare workers and donate to many healthcare centers across Canada since April until now.
When I read these messages, it really erases everything and every pain and every challenge because I know that we are celebrating this happiness no matter what. No matter that we missed a delivery; we missed a shipment. There was a snowstorm in Antigonish. We had to lockdown. There was a delay in some sides of the operations. We did not get that. It’s all worth it, at the end of the day. I know that’s, as I mentioned, business is not easy. Doing business is not easy, but at the end of the day, it’s enjoyable.
Vince: I really like that a lot. There is something to be said about that ability to move through something that you love can often come with some challenges. Right? To wrap up, I want to do something a little bit fun. We’ve been doing this with some of our guests, and we just go through rapid-fire questions, somewhat unrelated to what we’ve talked about, but it’s just another way for people to get some insight into you and what you do.
Tareq Hadhad: So, I can say whatever I want?
Vince: Yeah. Absolutely.
Tareq Hadhad: Oh, perfect.
Vince: I’m hoping that you will.
Tareq Hadhad: I’ll add some chocolate and everything. Okay.
Vince: Okay. What book do you most often give as a gift?
Tareq Hadhad: There is a book called Peace by Chocolate that I just launched, actually a few weeks ago that I started sending out.
Vince: Fair enough.
Tareq Hadhad: This is my only chance to do marketing for the book, Vince. You have to give it to me.
Vince: I’ve got you, 100%. I think it’s the right answer.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. No, there’s, honestly, a book that I love the most, it’s called The Art of Stillness, and I just love that book. It just teaches me a lot. It really very much speaks to my personality. I know many people that I give it to them, they’ve just returned it because they did not understand it, but they really love it.
Vince: Oh, I’ll read that one. I don’t know that book, actually. If you’re entertaining guests at home, do you cook or order in?
Vince: I am the worst cook. Even when I arrived here before my family arrived, I asked my mother at 3:00 am, Lebanon time, when she was still there, how to do fried eggs, and I burned them. So, I am really the worst cook ever, but I’m learning because I have to get that basic life skill correct. But I am a big fan of ordering in, for sure.
Tareq Hadhad: Okay. Maybe I’ll give you a gift as a book for cooking.
Vince: Thank you. Oh, we were doing a cookbook that actually launched just a few days ago.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. I saw that.
Vince: What object do you feel was designed exceptionally well? What’s the thing you love to look at and use the most?
Tareq Hadhad: I honestly – it’s not about what I use, but the things that I like are everything I have the standard in life to look up to Apple. Their products are really stunning. I’ve heard stories about when they started designing computers, it’s like, “If we design this well, people would put it in their living rooms and celebrate it. If we design this badly, they will still use it, but they will put it in their basement.” Right? I love just that concept is we design things that are beautiful so we can be proud of, and they can become part of who we are. I love their products. I don’t use them, but I really love their way of thinking.
Vince: Yeah. You buy a Mac and put it on the shelf next to the family photos, and then you use it to see somewhere. [Laughter] The next one. What is your favourite city?
Tareq Hadhad: My favourite city. There’s the city I was born in. It’s my own by birth, Damascus. I absolutely love that. I love the harmony, I love the scents, and I love the people there. The second loveliest city for me is certainly everywhere in Canada. That’s one of the cities – every major city in Canada. Halifax has a place in my heart that is very special because I travel a lot across the country.
If we talk about places and if you ask me what’s my favourite place that I love the most, I’d say Antigonish. It is a very special place. No matter what happens or no matter, I’m going to always focus on celebrating this amazing town that has welcomed our family because it means a lot to me to be here.
Vince: Yeah. Are you most comfortable in a suit, tee-shirt, or barefoot?
Tareq Hadhad: I am a suit person. I’m very much.
Vince: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you– [Laughter] I have never seen you in a photograph where you haven’t been impeccably dressed.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. I’m doing this podcast, even without the video, and I’m wearing a suit for it. Do you believe that?
Vince: Yeah. I believe that, and I’m actually wearing a tee-shirt, so that’s me.
Tareq Hadhad: Okay.
Vince: Last question here. What is the skill or talent that you have that would surprise most people? Hobby, skill, or talent.
Tareq Hadhad: So many don’t know that I’m a full doctor. I’m not practicing in Canada, but I’m a full doctor, so I have all of this medical knowledge that I’ve gained before that I’m not using at this point. I know there was much necessary during this pandemic. I know that we’re also doing some important stuff as a family. Many people don’t really know that I’m a doctor too.
Vince: Yeah. I know what you mean.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. They don’t really know that part of the story because I’m always the Chocolate Guy, as I mentioned. That was my passion when my family had that passion about chocolate, and I will always celebrate that as a skill alternative. No matter what, ten years from now, whether I go back to medicine or not, but I think this is part of who I am. My favourite TV shows are the medical shows like on Netflix or everywhere.
Vince: Yeah. Just before we leave, you have to tell me the story about where it’s safer in Toronto in a taxi or in an emergency room.
Tareq Hadhad: Where did you hear that?
Vince: It was a video I heard. Tell me that story just because it’s so funny.
Tareq Hadhad: Yeah. It is quite interesting. When I came here, my family and I had the discussion. I applied to come to Canada first to continue my medical studies. That’s the reason why I first applied. Then, the family came, and everything changed. But in the beginning of the journey, I was like, “Yeah, I may try to go back to medicine, folks.” I knocked on many doors for medical schools in Canada. Some of them asked me to go back to high school.
They even did not recognize that I’ve done even anything back home in Syria – nothing about my degrees. Then, a friend of mine in Toronto and he was like, “It’s going to take you some time, man.” I was like, “Why?” He was like, “This is the system. You have to be ready to go back, and you have to study, and you have to do the MCAT; some schools will ask you for a high school degree again, then to undergraduate, four years, and then you might get the chance of 1% or 2% maybe in some schools.”
I’m like, “Wow. This is really tough.” He was like, “Yeah, this is really tough because do you know that if you are in Toronto and if you had a heart attack, it is safer to be in a taxi rather than being at the emergency room at the hospital?” I asked him, “Why?” He was like, “Because 80% of cab drivers in Toronto are immigrant physicians who could not practice.”
Vince: It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s so funny.
Tareq Hadhad: I know that he was exaggerating.
Vince: It’s painful to hear.
Vince: It’s not 80%, but it’s real stories. People are not getting their credentials recognized in the country. I share this as a way to make people aware that we are losing a lot of potential as a country from physicians.
Vince: Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Tareq Hadhad: Not because there’s something wrong in being a cab driver. It is a lovely place to be. You meet a lot – if this is your passion, go for it. But these did not want to be cab drivers. That’s the problem. They were forced to.
Vince: I think our country is doing ourselves a huge disservice by having that layer of red tape that doesn’t open itself up. But you tell it in such a funny way. We could leave it at that, and thank you very much for your time today. It’s always a pleasure talking to you. I hope that we’ll be able to see each other soon in the coming months in your space.
Vince: Yeah. It’s looking beautiful, by the way.
Tareq Hadhad: It is looking beautiful. Thanks so much, Vince. Thank you, everyone. The team did really phenomenal work. I’m really excited.
Vince: It is. It certainly is.
Tareq Hadhad: I’m really grateful for all of you guys. Thank you.
Vince: Thank you. We’re grateful for you. Thank you.
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Outro: Thanks for listening to the Design Makes Everything Better podcast, by Breakhouse, a Canadian strategic design firm. This was Episode 2, with Tareq Hadhad, founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate. A full transcript and show notes can be found at breakhouse.ca/podcast/2. If you like the show, help us out. Subscribe, rate, and review us on your favorite podcast app and share us with your friends. Have feedback or ideas? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
[End of Episode 2 – 52:45]