From modest beginnings making sweets in a Riffa kitchen in the 80s, Hazem Janahi is now developing Bahrain's biggest chocolate factory. His dedication towards moulding young Bahraini entrepreneurs aside, Mr Janahi revealed in an exclusive interview with the GDN, his ambitions to launch a flagship Bahraini chocolate franchise.
Chocolate and Company may not be quite the eccentric paradise Charlie discovered when he walked into Willy Wonka's candy empire.
The factory in Sanad looks the part however, with enterprising workers pouring molten chocolate into moulds, packing confectionary into dainty boxes to be dispatched to top hotels and boutiques across the GCC, Morocco, Mumbai and the US.
"Food is a huge market," Mr Janahi said.
Knowing the potential of such a lucrative business, he helped transform his family's confectionary business into a successful brand called Creolate.
"We used to import chocolates from abroad," he said.
"I thought why not manufacture chocolates here and position ourselves to export rather than import?"
The resourceful chocolate enthusiast is set to open doors to a much larger chocolate factory at the Bahrain International Investment Park.
With an investment of over $1.7 million, the upcoming 13,530 square feet facility will boost the present production of 250 tonnes almost three-fold.
Mr Janahi is optimistic that with a large plant in an industrial city, he can develop Bahrain into a regional chocolate exporting hub.
"We're looking to be the Patchi of Bahrain," he said in a reference to Middle East's famous Lebanese chocolate brand.
However, the chocolate business, one of many Mr Janahi has helped develop, began in a Riffa kitchen 25 years ago.
"We started production with the help of a Lebanese chocolatier in 1988," he said.
"The business soon grew into a sizeable four branches."
The company, he said, is valued at $10m and is eyeing a listing on the Bahrain Bourse.
Chocolate may seem a rather unusual investment but Mr Janahi's portfolio is unorthodox with a clutch of businesses that includes fast cars, marina leisure development and private jets.
"I love cars," he said.
"I've transformed that passion into a business."
Vmotion, one of the many businesses begun by Mr Janahi's boutique advisory firm Vanguard, reproduces vintage cars.
"Aviation is another passion," said the former Gulf Air board member.
In 2007, he started an air taxi service for businessmen called Rizon Jet which he later sold off.
"It's currently based in Qatar," he added.
His experience in developing and managing varied investment projects helps him mentor young Bahraini entrepreneurs who approach Vanguard seeking assistance with their start-ups.
"We're entrepreneurs ourselves," he said.
"We have real-time projects happening."
As a boutique advisory, he said, they were different from large global consultancies and provided customised solutions to their clients.
"Whoever comes in feels like he's in a boutique and not in a big company with huge staff members," he said.
"We are a boutique, we're cosy."
Vanguard is aiming to expand regionally with an office in Riyadh and plans for presence in Oman and Qatar as well.
"Our intention is to be the first Bahraini consulting company to move out of Bahrain," he said.
Working closely with young Bahraini entrepreneurs, he observed that the country is on a completely different platform in terms of innovation, compared to its neighbours.
"It's a coincidence that Bahrain is in the Gulf," he said.
"We're on a different platform to other oil-rich countries."
Owing to its geographically small size, competition in Bahrain is fierce, he said, driving Bahrainis to be very creative and ready for challenges.
"Bahrain is the place where ideas get incubated and then transferred to other places in the Gulf," he said.
"Rizon Jet is a good example."
"Scarce resources and a highly intellectual people make Bahrain the entrepreneurial launchpad of the Middle East."
Mentoring small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) may seem an odd choice for a businessman with a high-profile investment portfolio.
Mr Janahi is convinced, however, that entrepreneurs are Bahrain's future and will help drive the economy forward.
"An economy thrives on SMEs and not large corporations," he said.
"My interest is to develop SMEs that feed into the government.
"We don't have oil, human capital is what we have."