A lighthearted moment during U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada on Friday involving the gifting of a chocolate bar meant so much more to the Syrian-Canadian whose company created the treat.
Tareq Hadhad, CEO of Peace By Chocolate in Antigonish, N.S., told Global News he was in disbelief after watching Green Party Leader Elizabeth May give Biden a “Peace Bar” during a welcoming ceremony in Ottawa.
“This is absolutely unbelievable. Totally unbelievable,” said Hadhad, who was invited to Friday night’s state dinner at the Ottawa Aviation Museum as a guest of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This is a moment for the history books for our family and we are incredibly honoured.”
Biden, who is known to have a sweet tooth, elicited laughs when — after handing the candy to Trudeau to sign the House of Commons guest book — he quickly asked about the chocolate bar’s whereabouts.
“Where’s my chocolate?” he asked as handlers began to usher him out of the room.
Trudeau, who had handed the bar to someone else, quickly returned it to him.
Biden told the reporters covering his visit that he might share his chocolate with them later, “depending on how tough your questions are.”
“It was a good thing (the bar was returned), because you really don’t want a bilateral incident prompted by the Prime Minister of Canada depriving a president of his chocolate bar,” May quipped to reporters as she entered the dinner Friday evening.
May said she got the idea for Biden’s gift when she visited Peace By Chocolate in Antigonish a week before the visit and saw a picture on the wall of former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holding the same chocolate bar next to Trudeau.
Hadhad said he knew May had visited but could not imagine this viral moment with Biden would come as a result.
“I’m shaking from joy,” he said, adding he has received several messages of support from family, friends and fans of his company.
Hahdad and his family were chocolatiers back home in Syria for decades and once owned a large chocolate factory in Damascus. But the factory was bombed in 2012 during the escalation of the Syrian civil war, which forced the family to flee to Lebanon as refugees.
Three years later, they were welcomed into Canada and settled in Antigonish, where they established Peace By Chocolate. The Peace Bar gifted to Biden, which is packaged with the word “Peace” in 24 languages, was its first product.
“(We wanted) to teach people the true meaning and how to practice peace in their own means and their own forms,” Hadhad said.
“I am a big believer that our chocolate is bringing nations together. … We came to Canada as refugees because we lost everything to the war in Syria and we didn’t want to lose anything again here in Canada. That’s why we’re spreading this value.”
The family became Canadian citizens in 2020 and opened a new flagship store in downtown Halifax the following year. Its products are also sold in select supermarkets across Canada.
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Currently, the company is donating 100 per cent of the proceeds from its Peace Bars to the Turkey-Syria Earthquake Red Cross Relief Fund to help the two countries rebuild from last month’s devastating earthquake, which killed nearly 60,000 people.
Hadhad said he hopes his family’s story can serve as an example of the value immigrants can bring to countries like the United States and Canada.
“We are just so honoured that the president — with an absolutely incredible agenda for yesterday and today until he leaves the country — he just remembered the chocolate bar,” he said.
“I really hope he’s going to also look at (it) further and really understand how Canada opened the doors for us and changed our lives forever.”
—with files from Bryan Mullan