From the Middle East to Canada’s east coast
The lithe 40-year-old man stands erect behind a table in his shop. He gently kneads a ball of dough, then holds it over his hands, ready to toss it upward. Concentration registers on his dark countenance; a broad smile wreathes his face.
A customer, fearing the mixture may slip to the floor, holds his breath as he anticipates the routine to follow.
In the twinkling of an eye, the dough soars up, down; up, down; up, down ...
The man’s done it yet again, for the millionth time since the Lebanese moved to Bay Roberts 15 years ago.
The customer relaxes and exhales slowly, knowing that, within mere minutes, the delectable morsel of food — a.k.a. pizza — will be ready for consumption.
Jean Madi, owner/operator of Bigger Bite Pizza on the Conception Bay Highway in Bay Roberts, was born and raised in Bakarzala, a small Christian town in Lebanon, in the Middle East.
He studied Law at a university in Beirut, the capital city.
In 1975, when he was only seven years old, civil war erupted in his country. The conflict dragged on until 1991.
Madi made the decision to leave Lebanon for the West. He was intent on making “a brighter future” for himself, something he “couldn’t find there, because nobody knew how long the conflict was going to be.”
His destination was Halifax, Nova Scotia, where his sister and brotherin-law lived.
While waiting for his immigration papers to come through, Madi worked in a grocery store and pizzeria. He also attended school to learn English, his first and second languages being Arabic and French respectively.
Arriving in Bay Roberts on Dec. 27, 1995, he ran a pizza shop for the Halifax owner.
Nine months later, Madi left the island for Nova Scotia, then Lebanon, where he finished his university degree. He now calls himself an “unregistered lawyer.”
Back in Halifax, he made what turned out to be an unwise choice: he bought a grocery store.
“I couldn’t get it off the ground,” he admitted. “One of the first lessons I learned was to listen to people who have experience in life and business, especially those people who love you.”
Another move, this time back to Bay Roberts. The pizza business he had run earlier was now for sale.
Madi, who is a devout Christian, needed an entire night to decide whether or not to purchase it.
“I really prayed overnight,” he said. “ What should I do? As soon as I woke up, I knew I should stay here.” He bought the business. He’s had no second thoughts about living in the town. “ I’m very glad I came back here,” he added.
His faith as a Roman Catholic is, he stressed, “my rock in this life. When I was a kid, faith played a big role in my family’s life.” Indeed, Jean Madi cannot be understood apart from his religious sensibilities.
“Being a Christian and being faithful makes me the person I am today,” he explained.
His faith affects every aspect of his life, not the least of which is his business.
“At my store, we have our faith on a plate, so to speak” he said. “ You go inside the kitchen; there’s always a picture of one of the saints.”
He was intent on explaining to The Compass the so-called “ boss’ belief.” He regularly posts positive sayings in his shop.
“Actually,” he said, “I have one lady who waits for me to change it daily.”
Employers must care about their staff, Madi stressed.
“ You have to tell them more when they do well than when they do bad,” he added. “I tell them, ‘ You did a good job today.’ I give them a high five. If I’m on the work schedule, then I’m one of them. I never say, ‘I’m the boss, so you do this.’ “
If, at the end of the night, he’s on the schedule to mop the floor, then so be it.
His staff are fulsome in their praise of their employer, eagerly and readily commending his easy-going style. Madi is a multi-talented individual. He’s heavily involved with All Hallows Roman Catholic Church in North River. He sings in the choir and performs solos, in Arabic, French and English, if need be. He’s also part of the Baccalieu Sound.
He sings at weddings and other events. “I never charge anybody any money, though,” he commented. “ I just do it because I like doing it.”
He’s also known for his modelling in support of charities. Reading is important to him. He’s the certified teacher of a stationary cycling class at a local gym. He commits his thoughts to paper.
At the same time, he’s modest about his personal strengths, attributing everything to God.
Bigger Bite Pizza has suffered some break-ins through the years, a reality that might make some employers rather cranky.
Not Madi, though. He holds no ill feelings towards anyone in the community.
The eternal optimist, he laughed when someone quipped that “ the thieves left the real dough for the real dough!”
He said, “Hey, things happen here and everywhere, and there’s always that one bad apple. Never judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a country by only one person.”
Does Madi feel his personal dream, formed early in life, is finally materializing?
Decidedly so. “ That dream is on the way,” he responded. “It takes time. I don’t let the burden of the future destroy my hour or day or week. I enjoy life as it is and, whatever comes extra, as I learned here in Newfoundland, is gravy.”
To repeat a well-worn allusion, if Jean Madi had pursued his ambition to become a lawyer, undoubtedly he’d be “pullin’ in the dough” right now. These days, though, he’s focused on simply “tossin’ the dough.”