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.”

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