Inside a new Montreal chocolate factory celebrating inclusion

"A magical story of inclusion," says Refael Paris, Assistant Director of Friendship Circle Montreal, which launched its chocolate factory on June 17. The initiative offers people with disabilities a deliciously creative outlet. Pamela Pagano reports.

This chocolate has a pretty sweet story.

The non-profit, Friendship Circle Montreal, is launching a chocolate factory that employs people with disabilities — showcasing the power of diversity and inclusion.

“I am very happy,” said Ariel Mechaly, who will be working for the initiative. “Delighted to be a part of it.”

Chocolate from Montreal’s Friendship Circle on June 17, 2024. (Credit: Pamela Pagano/CityNews)

“Our team,” he added. “Is stronger than ever.”

They definitely are.

The chocolate factory is an extension of the DeLaMi bakery –- a branch of the city’s Friendship Circle where young adults with special needs come together to sell baked goods. 

“This is Boulangerie DeLaMi,” explained Elise Golbert, Committee Chairman of the Friendship Circle Montreal. “We’ve expanded here into a beautiful chocolatier.”

“They’re actually giving out samples of the newest chocolates,” she showed. “We have different flavors.”

Montreal’s Friendship Circle’s new chocolate factory on June 17, 2024. (Credit: Pamela Pagano/CityNews)

Founded in 1994 in Detroit, Michigan, the Friendship Circle International has more than 80 regional chapters around the world –- Montreal proud of their own milestone.

“There used to be a wall here,” said Golbert. “Now we’ve expanded into this giant room here with high ceilings.”

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“We approach things here unconventionally,” said Refael Paris, Assistant Director of Friendship Circle Montreal. “Why do the ordinary?”

“Coupling together chocolate with individuals with special needs,” he added. “Is kind of a magical story of inclusion.”

Inclusion –- a part of the Friendship Circle’s mission.

“A hub and a safe haven for social change,” explained Paris. “Where all people of all abilities are welcomed, and embraced, and celebrated.”

“For their uniqueness, for their contributions that they can bring to the table.”

Employees at the launch of Montreal’s Friendship Circle’s new chocolate factory on June 17, 2024. (Credit: Pamela Pagano/CityNews)

“I’m getting into everything,” said Adam Kleen, DeLaMie employee. “I’m ready for it.”

“I’m so excited to taste the chocolate,” added Dayna Erin Wiseman, fellow co-worker.

Employee from DeLaMie bakery holding sweets for the launch of their new chocolate factory by Montreal’s Friendship Circle on June 17, 2024. (Credit: Pamela Pagano/CityNews)

Operations, beginning shortly –- chocolate could be pre-ordered now on their website.

And soon added into the mix: a Café and chocolate workshops.

“Friendship circle will always stay forever,” said Mechaly. “We are a family.”

“It’s such a beautiful thing to be a part of,” added Golbert. “And they’re my family as well.”

Part of the Friendship Circle Montreal team on June 17, 2024 for the launch of their new chocolate factory. (Submitted by: Chana Paris)

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