More about Pepe Margo

It gave me great pleasure to talk to Jonathan Harms, a young businessman in the process of helping develop two new businesses here, surrounded by a team of equally-passionate, fired-up, professionals.

The old Romar Trading on Englandstraat now flaunts a modern Hard Seltzer production-line with sophisticated machinery, about to introduce Calypso, in four different flavors, including Mango, Tangerine, Lime & Ginger and Mixed Berries, while on Wilhelminastraat, in Oranjestad, Pepe Margo Distillery is gearing up for a soft opening, developing recipes and watching the garden grow.

Of the two, Pepe Margo attracts much interest in a historical context, clearly signaling urban revival for Oranjestad, though I am looking forward to having a cool, low-calorie highball drink, a lightly-flavored seltzer, spiked with alcohol, perhaps even in that growing garden of Pepe Margo.

Local business people on Aruba have been moved to buy real estate on Wilhelminastraat, which was once the main commerce artery here. The number of restorations and new businesses opening, raises the hope that the street is again, destined to greatness.

Historically, families Wever and Arends represented the heart and soul of island commerce, and many of today’s merchants may trace their roots to that downtown Lagoon neighborhood.

Among famous town-houses, the yellow one on Wilhelminastraat, where a number of today’s movers and shakers remember growing up at the great-grandparents, and later grandparents.

This is how it goes, and forgive me if I am wrong. I wasn’t around, then.

Cochi and Techi Arends built the residence, more than 100 years ago. Then their son Domenico and his bride Catharina Margarita moved in. She was a Wever, he was an Arends. The young couple lived with the Arends in-laws, and Margarita, later known as Tan Margo, auntie Margo, used to sell sweets to the neighborhood kids through the window in the front. She was an enterprising woman. Also, the godmother to a number of family off-springs, hence her nickname, Pepe!

One of my friends, a Wever, reports: Such beautiful memories playing with the cats, laying in the hammock and most of all getting homemade sweets in her little shop and cooking in that kitchen. I want to believe I’m a great cook but she was incredible. I remember our last phone call asking how to make sult, and she told me to use a kreenchi of cloves and a kreenchi of madame Jeanette pepper which means of course to this day I have never managed to recreated her wonderful pork in aspic dish. The love and kindness was felt the minute you stepped into that porch. I am so happy to see her memory lives on.

Another friend reports watching Carnival dancing through Wilhelminastraat, the house was a prime viewing location, and hanging over the wall to look at the world, after school, while parents were at work, was a favorite pass-time.

Later on, grandpa Arends set up as a print shop in partnership with VAD, in the backyard, when the business flourished, it moved to a different location, with a Wever at the helm.

And by the way, there was another Arends-Wever alliance on the street, when Mo Brenchi married Margo’s sister. Their house, up the street, across from the park, was lovingly restored by Milton Harms, Jonathan’s father, who can trace his maternal roots to that happy union. The furniture in that house is estate-bought original period pieces, and most of the décor, including floor tile, wooden stairs, window glass details, and architectural style, beautifully preserved.

Having concluded the Mo Brenchi’s house project Milton put his sights on Tan Margo’s town-house, that was badly dilapidated, and falling apart.

He recruited architect Raffi Kock, who according to Jonathan shared the family’s vision and came up with fantastic solutions to a lengthy restoration, successfully concluded.

The way Jonathan tells it, with his masters degree in biology and his knowledge of bio technology, the distillery idea was a perfect fit, he understands the science and with the help of Claus, his knowledgeable right hand man, with solid relationships in Europe — the 203 year old Brennerei Feller distillery, they set out to buy state-of-the art stainless steel and copper pot stills and explore the market for the best possible ingredients to import.

Jonathan explains he wants the public to share in the experience of making rum, and view the artisanal work process in the exhibition distillery, where the elixir will be made in small batches, enjoying a clean distillation, discarding less appealing notes, and ending up with a well-rounded spirit with no additives except the flavoring from the aging barrels.

The whole process, he says, of distilling, fermenting, blending, and aging will take place in full view of the public, and because of the unique setting and quality materials, the rum will feature unique, inimitable characteristics, a true local product, a far cry from other mass produced alcoholic drinks.

The distillery will be fired up soon, then it must accumulate a stock, meanwhile guests may enjoy the quality products of Brennerei Feller, gin, and beer.

I could keep talking to Jonathan for weeks. He is passionate, eloquent and humble. He talks about the collaborative effort invested in Pepe Margo and knows that together the business is more than the sum of its parts.

Milton adds it is all a private market initiative, nothing from the government, which should, in principle, do more to incentivize urban revival.

Romar Trading also took over Don Pablo rum, in Curacao, and gave it a fresh impetus, and a new life!

#PepeMargoDistillery #RomarTrading

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April 05, 2023
Rona Coster