APPROACHING THE COUNTER TO ORDER A DRINK at Rael’s Store & Coffee Shop, in Questa, you can’t help but notice the abundance of local art. An array of carved wooden religious figures, paintings of familiar desert imagery, and a collection of handmade furniture fill the space.
Opened in 1927, the coffee-shop-meets-gallery is run by third-generation owner Cynthia Rael-Vigil and her family. “We say that we were store babies,” Rael-Vigil says. “We grew up in the store. And then my kids did, and now my grandkids come and hang out while their parents work.”
Located on the Enchanted Circle of northern New Mexico, Rael’s started as a general store, carrying necessities like medical supplies, clothing, and shoes. It turned into a grocery when Rael-Vigil’s father took over in the 1960s. When Rael-Vigil was given the reins in 2013, she added the coffee shop.
Rael-Vigil spends six days a week catering to locals from the town where she was born and raised. She greets customers by name and has memorized their orders. “People know us, and we know people,” she says.
Rael’s serves traditional coffees, lattes, and other sips alongside specialty drinks inspired by Questa’s history and vibe. The Cutthroat Italian Soda, a lime and raspberry blend, gets its name from the Río Grande cutthroat trout, a catch with red-orange markings along its mouth and gills that’s coveted by anglers who visit the Questa area. The made-fresh-daily lavender lemonade stands as a great summer sipper, while the Dirty Harry, a creamy chai with a shot of espresso, can be enjoyed hot or over ice. “We are trying to improve our recipes all the time,” Rael-Vigil says.
The store’s 10 local artists honor both the natural beauty of the high-desert mountains and the heritage of the tight-knit community. Rael-Vigil’s husband, Armando Vigil, makes furniture adorned with traditional tin panels and vibrant hues, including tones borrowed from New Mexico’s skies. The shop displays Peggy Trigg’s landscape paintings of wispy clouds, sheer cliffs, and bushy sage plants, as well as a sampling of small religious figures carved from wood by Marcus Herrera.
During the annual Questa Studio Art Tour (August 13 and 14 this year), Rael’s welcomes additional artists and serves as a convenient stop on the route. For the weekend, Rael-Vigil’s daughter-in-law, Valerie Vigil, crafts her special Mango Mangonada, a slushy mango-and-chile concoction that’s sweet, spicy, and refreshing.
“The Studio Tour is a wonderful time to showcase the amazing talent of our community,” says Rael-Vigil. “It’s hard to explain how special the hometown connection is.”