F&F Grants 2023 | Del Araujo
Aug 9, 2023 5:23:54 PM • Viva Wittman
Meet Del Araujo, an F&F Entrepreneurship Grant recipient, and the owner of Aquila Cafe in Aquinnah. First of all, it’s no wonder his coffee shop is a destination for tourists and locals alike; it’s situated on the Gay Head Cliffs, with breath-taking views of the ocean and colorful clay cliff sides. We went out to Martha’s Vineyard to present Del with his grant winnings, and of course we had to check out Aquila in person.
In majestic natural settings, small spaces have a way of underscoring the vastness of the beyond, and that’s pretty much the vibe of Aquila. A small square footage keeps things cozy, and a charming golden-blond wood interior is (welcomely) interrupted by big picture windows. The aroma of roasted coffee beans (all locally-sourced!) is straight-up tantalizing. And adorning the space is a gorgeous selection of artisanal crafts, emphasizing work by Native American makers.
Ahead of opening his cafe, Del was a large-scale sporting event planner with Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort—where he appreciated the way the company celebrated Native American culture. It planted a seed that would eventually grow into his commitment to building the platform for indigenous craftspeople he’s now launched. Del himself is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the stewards of Aquinnah for thousands of years, and it’s clear in interacting with him how devoted he is to uplifting his community through all his endeavors.
Martha’s Vineyard is a gorgeous, culture-rich island. It’s also small, with few higher learning and skill-building opportunities, where houses sell for an average of 2.3 million. “I can’t afford that and I own two businesses,” Del said in his grant application. That’s why he’s made it his mission to share the ins and outs of running a business with his employees, and to help local artists make a living by selling their work. As of now, with living costs on the rise, Del has seen many indigenous people and locals get forced out. Aquila is staffed by a young bunch, with six employees still in high school. “I want to give these young people a real chance to succeed here on Martha’s Vineyard,” Del told us, and little seems to please him more than to see his team members thrive in their roles.
Local businesses are the life force of any region’s economy, but starting one can be a raw deal. Entrepreneurs need all the help they can get, and Del’s Aquila team is rocking the grant world. Earlier this year, they also won the top prize at Pitch Perfect—a business pitch competition on the Vineyard. If you live nearby and you want to get in on the support-Aquila game, you can help, too.
Go to this coffee shop. You’ll walk along the windy overlook and stop into the little vanilla-and-espresso-scented shingled cabin. You’ll order your favorite drink (if you’re on the fence, try the iced mocha). While you wait, you’ll take in the artisan craft displays—maybe pick something out for your friend’s birthday. Then you’ll take your drink to the picnic table and enjoy the view. As fellow curators in our own local food scene, we at Feast & Fettle know what it’s like to put care into every bite. Aquila is more than up to this task (in drink form), and it shows.
Del Araujo has some big goals for his business, but they all seem to add up to a pretenseless ambition: to generate a better quality of life within his hometown and beyond. Through supporting local coffee roasters and providing jobs, Del does his part to boost his economy—just as through building a generative environment, he works to nurture creativity. All the while, he’s keeping an eye on a future where locals have greater means—and reason—to stay. It’s about money, but it’s also really not. “I say it to the staff all the time,” he wrote in his application. “‘The goal is not to make a million dollars, it’s to create a million special experiences.’”
But five thousand dollars can't hurt. So we brought him a giant check.