How a Caribbean Chef Is Unearthing the Hidden Stories of Martha’s Vineyard

It’s not surprising that successful restaurateurs, such as the Jamaican-born, Anguilla-formed, New York-trained Chef Deon Thomas, might set up their eateries on the island.

But his current establishment, which is housed inside the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, contrasts with the mostly white-owned, farm-to-table restaurants across Martha’s Vineyard. Serving New American food with a Caribbean spin, his customers include African-American vacationers and luminaries (who have a history on the island longer than the Kennedy family) and veterans who live in town year-round. In many ways, Deon’s illuminates the true and often hidden stories of the heralded island.

Before opening Deon’s, Thomas, who is also an ordained minister, trained in elite New York kitchens, including a year as a chef at 40/40, Jay-Z’s restaurant in New York City and Atlantic City. For a decade he worked as a summer chef in the Hamptons while owning and running multiple restaurants in Anguilla during the winter. A trailblazer, he eventually bought and ran a high-end, Caribbean-inspired New American restaurant called The Cornerway in Chilmark. The area is a mostly white,wooded region of Martha’s Vineyard that fills with politicians, celebrities, writers, and lawyers each summer. “A black kid in Chilmark, of all places,” he says, incredulous.

After The Cornerway, Thomas opened two other restaurants on Martha’s Vineyard: Deon’s in West Tisbury, which burned down, and Deon’s on Circuit Avenue, the main hub of the large town of Oak Bluffs. When that closed, he opened the current-day Deon’s at the VFW, where he rented the space for its enormous commercial kitchen, transitioning from full-time restaurateur (you can still eat there, on paper plates with plastic forks) to one of the island’s top summer caterers.

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