Tuesday was Elio Silva's day off. Which didn't mean much.
"Today and tomorrow were supposed to be my days off. I got here at 5:30 this morning. My last days off were last year," Mr. Silva said, smiling even as he predicted he'd work until 9 o'clock that night.
But that didn't upset him. Since becoming involved in business on the Island when he first moved here in 1989, he has been putting in long hours.
"I don't do it because I really need the money; I do it because I enjoy working," he said.
Even when Mr. Silva's not working, he's working. During a conversation Tuesday afternoon, he signed for a box of plastic spoons, explained to an employee how to make a specialty cappuccino and smiled and greeted several customers by name. At one point, someone called an order in and Mr. Silva apologized before running off to make a pizza.
Starting as a line cook at various Island restaurants when he emigrated from Brazil as a 17-year-old, today he is the co-owner of the E&E Deli and Martha's Vineyard Coffee Company in Vineyard Haven as well as the owner of the North Star Travel Agency in Edgartown.
With the Island's Brazilian population swelling in recent years, success stories like Mr. Silva's have grown increasingly common.
But Brazilians aren't the only immigrants who play a central role in Island businesses. In fact, right down the street from the deli, Margie and Val Pires opened Café Gourmet this November at the Vineyard Haven Texaco. The shop offers Italian pastries and Portuguese breads along with coffee and breakfast and lunch fare.
Mr. Pires moved to the United States from Portugal when he was 14, first settling in Connecticut where he learned masonry from his brother. There he met and married Margie, who is from the United States.
In 1988, they moved to the Island and Mr. Pires started P&P Masonry and Landscaping. "He just saw a lot of potential on the Island. This is the best place to start your own business," Mrs. Pires said.
"You make more money working for yourself. If you want to take a two-hour lunch, you can," Mr. Pires said. He doesn't take many of those, though; in the winter, he usually works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. building patios, fireplaces, foundations or his favorite, stone walls.
As with most businesses, getting established took time and the slow economy didn't help. "It was tough in the beginning. There was no work. Sometimes I would knock on people's houses to fix their front steps," Mr. Pires said.
But soon his business grew; today it includes five employees and several trucks. Headaches now don't come over finding work; rather, they stem from issues like paying for insurance and finding good help. The large stone fireplace in his living room and the stone wall that borders his property attest to his skill.
After arriving from Brazil, Mr. Silva immediately entered the business world. "I was going to stay for the summer, and next thing the job turned out to be year-round," he said.
He rented an apartment from Edward Charter; their friendship soon turned into a business partnership that continues today. The two opened the Tisbury Farm Market which, in its early days, provided fresh produce during the summer. It later stayed open year-round, expanding its offerings to include specialty cheeses, Italian gourmet products, plants and eventually roasted coffee.
Entering the business world didn't come as a surprise to him. "I guess it was in my genes, because that's what my parents did," he said. His father owned a supermarket in Minas Gerais, a region in Eastern Brazil. "I always wanted to get things done my way - I guess I never liked to be told what to do."
Of course, coming from a foreign country had its difficulties, but these could be minimized with a bit of effort. Mr. Silva learned English with a book and a series of tapes called The Modern Method. "There's one in every Brazilian home. People just don't use it," he said. "I don't believe that I'm smart about learning the language, I just put the sweat into it."
Today his second business helps to minimize the difficulties for other immigrants. "People came and said, ‘We need somebody to open a Brazilian store,'" he said.
So three years ago, he opened North Star Travel in Edgartown. "We sell airplane tickets, phone cards. We have Brazilian products. We do wires like Western Union, and we rent Brazilian movies," he said. People can also find translation help there or just enjoy a free cup of coffee.
Over the years he has lived here, the Island has become Mr. Silva's home. "I like people. I never was much at making personal friends, but everywhere I went I started talking to people," he said. "You don't have to lock your car. I bought my house five years ago; I still don't have a key for it."
Indeed, his life is here now, and he doesn't spend time missing Brazil. "I believe that homesickness or missing is a feeling that takes away from you," he said. It has been 13 years since he has seen his family. "I learned to live without that feeling of missing somebody, because it doesn't do you any good.
"I don't really think about going back, especially to my city. It's changed so much. It's beautiful, they put a lot of money into it, but it's not as nice as it used to be community-wise," Mr. Silva said. Once the deli, which opened last March, is established, he hopes to spend more time pursuing his hobbies: reading, sailing, downhill skiing and gardening.
Mr. Pires is also here to stay. "I love Martha's Vineyard. Off-Island is bad. They steal your tools. I leave all my tools on the jobs - nobody takes anything. I wish I knew Martha's Vineyard a long time ago," he said.
His answer to whether he misses Portugal came quickly. "No, I don't. I don't miss it at all. It was tough living," he said. "I never saw a toothbrush before I came to the United States.
"I would like to go back and visit, but I don't think that's going to happen."