By Frida Anbar
Jamil Cheaib, president and co-owner of Marché Adonis, made his dream come true with his ambition and perseverance.
It is quite impressive to meet Jamil Cheaib, the giant behind the mega-success story of Marché Adonis founded in Montreal in 1979. Cheaib is president and co-owner of the highly established and colossal ethnic food retailer specializing in fresh and Mediterranean products and prepared meals. He landed in Canada in 1976, without any possessions, to escape the civil war in Lebanon. Shortly after, he partnered with his brother Elie Cheaib and his fellow compatriot George Ghorayeb to open their first grocery in a small 1000 square feet shop. Their entrepreneurship made the tiny place expand into a mega-food retailer, operating about eight stores in Quebec and one in Ontario, and employing more than 1000 employees. They also own Phoenicia Products, which imports and distributes exclusive products in Montreal and Toronto.
His Way to Success
Beyond the financial success and the fact that Marché Adonis became Canada’s fast-growing, multi-million-dollar ethnic grocery store, I was interested in talking to the man behind this success. Being myself a faithful and regular Marché Adonis customer, I often bumped into him pacing back and forth with pride like a father witnessing his baby’s huge triumph. What struck me the most was his gleaming eyes that looked far beyond reality, as all true visionaries do.
“We took kebbe, and we built a business empire” said the charismatic Jamil Cheaib wisely and softly. He recalls dreaming it all before then weaving together the concept into a reality. Truly, Cheaib understood, before anyone else, the potential for a supermarket inspired by the Lebanese influence and Middle Eastern culinary delights. Moreover, he was in tune with the dramatic increase in the demand for ethnic food in Canada.
“We took kebbe, and we built a business empire"
It is known that immigrants are very often forced into self-employment; however, it takes a certain level of entrepreneurial drive to make it into the mainstream. This is what Cheaib achieved. When asked about what are the key ingredients of his success, he replied that he came to Canada with great ambition. This was his inheritance from his homeland. Canada has provided him with rigorous work methods and infrastructure so the combination of the two mentalities contributed to the skyrocketing of Marché Adonis into the limelight. He also highlighted the fact that one has to find and enter the right niche market where they believe opportunity exists.
Lebanese food in Canadian houses
The roots of his philosophy are hard work, family values, respect, motivation, and a constant hunger for innovation. According to him, one should never neglect an idea. This is how he introduced a fish market, fresh pastries, and many other counters such as deli, meat, cheese, coffee and prepared food to his stores. Although good timing seems to be a Cheaib family trait, he emphasized that only constant and hard work made Marché Adonis what it is today.
Beyond the Middle Eastern community, he charmed Canadians with the scent of the Mediterranean culinary delights and made Shish Taouk and Tabouli a regular dish for Canadians. They became fans of Lebanese food. This is part of the bilateral exchange as highlighted by Cheaib “We took Marché Adonis from a typical immigrant enterprise to a mainstream diversified company. It made Lebanese food accepted in many Canadian homes. Grocery innovation lies in listening to the growing need of consumers such as a craving for healthier food. The Mediterranean diet had all the ingredients, Marché Adonis provided all that.” No doubt that Marché Adonis played and still does play a significant social, cultural and economic role in the community.
Attachment to homeland
Cheaib is very much attached to his homeland, he often goes back to Lebanon with his family to spend holidays and reflect on his past. He never gave up on Lebanese values that include strong family ties, responsibility, generosity, enthusiasm and fearless boldness. About duality and belonging to two countries, he confided that he takes the best of the two mentalities. Moreover, he is involved with charity work in Lebanon and in Canada.
I challenged him on his opinion with a quote by Khalil Gibran, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life.” He replied, “That it is very true. If something needs to be done, why not start it by yourself. Don’t sit around waiting for opportunities to come knocking, just create them!”
Finally, I asked Cheiab, if he could go back in time, what he would whisper to the young man he was, when he landed in Canada 40 years ago with no papers and no money. Without hesitation he responded: “Do not be afraid. Abolish the fear and have courage, that is your strength. The one you will need when going against the odds. Just take action! Sometimes life asks you to be audacious, so do not hesitate. You never know what is waiting for you unless you try!”
“Do not be afraid. Abolish the fear and have courage. Just take action!"
As I shook hands with him and left his office, I couldn’t help but think that Phoenician DNA is still flourishing. They conquered the seas and ruled the eastern Mediterranean for centuries; Cheaib captured his dream and gave Canada a true taste and imprint of Lebanon. He tamed his past and shaped his future. His ancestors can surely be proud of this imaginative entrepreneur, strategic decision maker with breakthrough ideas. How can you not feel inspired?