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by Craig Carter-Edwards

Newcomers play an important role in growing Canada’s economy.  Canadian businesses are always looking abroad for the specialized talent they need to thrive, but can’t find at home. At the same time, newcomer-owned firms are even more likely than those of Canadian-born owners to create new jobs.

How do you get started?  What’s the right approach to take in starting your own business?

Tareq Hadhad has some ideas for you.

When Tareq, CEO of Antigonish, Nova-Scotia based Peace by Chocolate (PbC) makes suggestions about how to grow a successful company, he’s speaking from experience. Under his leadership, PbC has grown into a national, internationally recognized social enterprise. Its products have been given as gifts by our Prime Minister to the American Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and carried to outer space by astronaut Dr. Andrew Feustel.

So what’s the secret?

To know how Peace by Chocolate got to where it is and where they’re going next, it helps to understand how the Hadhad family got here from their homeland of Syria.

“We had a chocolate business in Syria since 1986, and the business was flourishing there.  I remember my dad was exporting everywhere throughout the Middle East until the factory was bombed in 2012. At that time, the factory had hired hundreds of employees in the production; we had thousands of people in distribution networks around the country and around neighboring countries as well.”

This came to an end in 2012, when their factory was bombed. Like so many Syrians, the Hadhad family found themselves as refugees, living in a camp in Lebanon.

Tareq came to Canada in late 2015, settling in the small town of Antigonish in North-Eastern Nova Scotia. His parents and siblings joined him in January 2016. One day, not long after they had all moved in, the Hadhads were invited to a community potluck. Given their background in the chocolatier business, they decided to bring some home-made chocolate; it was a hit. This experience encouraged them to trying selling some of their chocolate at a local market; within two months, they had a full-fledged business.

The family started by making chocolate in their home kitchen; now they have a factory and more than 55 employees on their payroll.  “We’re in Sobeys, we’re at Pier 21, we are in niche stores and Hudson, we’re in the airport and on Amazon, we have our online stories… yet there’s still so many places to grow,” Tareq mused. “Our next phase will be to start in the US markets. Hopefully, by next year, we are targeting to start exporting to the United States. Now, we are shipping online to the United States, but we are planning to be in stores in the United States by that time in 2020.”

After being forced to flee their homes due to Syrian conflict, the Hadhads wanted their new enterprise to reflect their personal commitment to promoting peace in the world.

“We totally believe in all the branches of peace”, said Tareq. “Peace in work, peace in family, peace in schools, peace while travelling, peace within communities, peace with diversity, peace in inclusion. These are really all part of our mission.”

“Our slogan is ‘one peace won’t hurt’. Every time people see peace, they remember how fortunate we are in Canada to live in peace. Then they take that peace and they implement it into their house, they take it into their relationships, into their connections – that’s really how change happens.”

Something else that was important to the Hadhads was giving back to their community. “There’s really nothing that contributes more to a community and a sense of giving back than starting a business.”

In addition to creating new jobs in a town that was shrinking, Tareq and his family have been tireless in their promotion of the virtues of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

The Hadhads have been equally committed to local First Nation communities, such as Paq’tnkek First Nation.

“We called the first bar we created Wantaqo’ti. It’s “peace” in Mi’maw. You know, we are newcomers, as Canadians, and we wanted to share our message. There’s nothing nobler than sharing our message in the mother tongue of the land that we are on and the land that we call home. It’s kind of a tribute to the original inhabitants of the land, but also to tell Canadians that newcomers care about the issues facing First Nations.”

While Tareq didn’t set out with the notion of becoming an entrepreneur – he studied medicine before being forced to flee Syria – he found that his status as a newcomer to Canada gave him an advantage as he started down that road.

Being a newcomer means that you come with a fresh set of eyes. If you are living in the same place where you were born, it’s hard to really know what is missing. You’ve adjusted to every single aspect of that community, so you don’t really seek change, and you don’t really seek to create something new. As a newcomer, you come here from a country with different experiences, different sets of skills, and the first thing you would really like to do is translate your experiences into that community, which would really create something new, impactful and meaningful at the same time.“

“Entrepreneurship is limitless.”

Ask Tareq about the challenges his families faced as they got started back in 2016, and he’ll tell you there are no challenges, only opportunities.

As a newcomer, I did not have anything to lose, so I’ve been enjoying the experience. I’m now the CEO of the company, but also all of my family members are involved in the business.  My father is the production manager, my mother and my sister are managers of the storefront on Bay Street. These are really the kinds of opportunities we have as newcomers.”

He pointed out that, while the regulations and requirements for setting up a business in Canada are different than other countries, that isn’t always a bad thing.

“If you come from Syria and you want to do business in Canada, it’s different because of the tax system. It’s different in terms of the hiring system, of the labour codes that you have to follow, the way you have to register your business.

“Which is really easy, if you think about it, because to register a business in Canada, it took us one week, and we trademarked it very easily. If you wanted to start a business in Syria, that could take you five to ten years.

“There is so much encouragement in this country for start-up businesses. Way beyond what you’d think. So there is no excuse for people that they sit down and complain all the time that ‘we couldn’t find ourselves.’”

What’s the one piece of advice he would give to newcomer entrepreneurs?

“Be flexible, be open-minded. Don’t have any prejudices about the community that you are coming to. It’s your responsibility for the first year, I would say, to share your ideas and your skills.”