From the Middle East to the East Coast

After leaving Lebanon, a man finds a brighter future in Bay Roberts

Burton K. Janes lsimmons@cbncompass.ca
Published on October 12, 2010
Jean Madi of Bigger Bite Pizza in Bay Roberts is about to work his charm by tossing the dough into the air.
Burton K. Janes/The Compass

Bay Roberts — The 40-year-old man stands behind a table in his shop, gently kneading a ball of dough. He holds the dough up, ready to toss it in the air. Concentration registers on his face, followed by a broad smile.

In the twinkle of an eye, the dough soars up, then falls back down into his hands; up, down; up, down.

It’s only about the millionth time he’s done it since he moved to Bay Roberts 15 years ago.

Jean Madi, owner/operator of Bigger Bite Pizza on the Conception Bay Highway, was born and raised in Bakarzala, a small Christian town in Lebanon.

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 said he “couldn’t find there, because nobody knew how long the conflict was going to be.”

His destination was Halifax, where his sister and brother-in-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 are Arabic and French, respectively.

He arrived in Bay Roberts on Dec. 27, 1995, to run a pizza shop for the Halifax owner.

Nine months later, Madi left Newfoundland 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.”

So he made another move, this time back to Bay Roberts. The pizza business he had run earlier was now for sale.

Madi, a devout Christian, took a night to decide whether or not to make the purchase.

“I really prayed overnight,” he said. “What should I do? As soon as I woke up, I knew I should stay here.”

He’s had no second thoughts.

“I’m very glad I came back here,” he added.

He said his faith as a Roman Catholic is “my rock in this life.”

“When I was a kid, faith played a big role in my family’s life. Being a Christian and being faithful makes me the person I am today.”

His faith affects every aspect of his life, including 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 regularly posts positive sayings in the shop, as well.

“Actually,” he said, “I have one lady who waits for me to change it daily.”

His staff are fulsome in their praise of their employer and commend his easygoing style.

He likes to encourage a positive environment at work.

“You have to tell them more when they do well than when they do bad,” he said.

“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.’”

That means if, at the end of the night he’s on the schedule to mop the floor, then so be it.

Madi is multi-talented. 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 Baccalieu Sound. He also sings at weddings and other events.

“I never charge anybody any money, though,” he said. “I just do it because I like doing it.”

He’s also the certified teacher of a stationary cycling class at a local gym.

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 cranky.

Not Madi. He holds no ill-feelings towards anyone in the community.

An eternal optimist, he laughed when someone quipped “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 he’s found his brighter future?

“That dream is on the way,” he says candidly. “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.”

The Compass