On Stands Now
June 2024

Questa  •  Red River  •  Cerro  •  Costilla  •  Amalia  •  Lama  •  San Cristobal

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Courtesy Photo The family poses together (left to right) in the store: Armandito, Emannuel, Valerie, Cynthia and Sophia, gathered under the photo of Enriquetta, which is proudly displayed at the store

Rael’s Coffee Shop

The founders of the current-day Questa community had one thing in common—a vision of a more accessible and sustainable community so locals could have options in Questa, not having to make the long trek to Taos for basic items.

It was in 1927 that brothers Jose Enriques Rael, Jose Antonio Rael and Jose Praxedes Rael made that vision a reality by opening Rael’s Brothers Market, providing grocery and general merchandise to locals in the small village of Questa.

In the 1960s, Aaron Rael, the son of Jose Enriques Rael, took over the store with his wife Ruth. He eventually purchased it and renamed it Rael’s Market. In the 60s, all three of Aaron’s children, Aaron Rael Jr. (Buddy), Roberta Rael, and Cynthia Rael-Vigil worked in the store, helping their parents sell groceries, clothing, denim shirts, jackets, shoes, medical supplies, health and beauty supplies, and dry goods.
According to Rael-Vigil, people were allowed to shop with store credit and pay their bill later when they got paid, to help families get ahead. “To this day, people still tell me that my parents are a big reason their families were able to get by, because they could have groceries and necessities when they needed them, not [only] when they had money to purchase them,” she says.

One staple fondly remembered by many locals in the area (including myself) is the fresh sticks of bologna Aaron and Ruth would purchase from Colorado. “Everyone loved the bologna, we would cut it and sell it by the slab. To store it, we would freeze it and sell it for some time. You can’t find it anymore, but it was so delicious and locals and visitors loved it,” Rael-Vigil recalls.

Courtesy Library of Congress A historic photo of Rael’s Bro’s Market in 1943 by John Collier Jr.

The store closed its doors in the early 2000s as Aaron and Ruth retired. The family knew they didn’t want to sell the operation but had to take a break after years of the constant work of keeping the store going.
In an effort to keep the property operational, the family leased out the building to a business owner who opened a gym for a couple years at the familiar store location.

The store was reopened in 2016 by Rael-Vigil, who had the vision to open a gift shop, filled with local artisan merchandise and art. She also knew she wanted to open a coffee shop. Her daughter, Enriquetta Vigil, and daughter-in-law Valerie Vigil, were instrumental in researching drinks and learning how to make them.

“Quetta really put on her entrepreneurial hat and started researching what we would need to be successful, like the coffee bar and syrups and the various ingredients. Valerie had worked at a coffee shop in Taos so she was able to teach Quetta pretty quickly and the two got to work,” Rael-Vigil said. As the family started to build up their business, the store started seeing more and more foot traffic from locals and tourists alike. Enriquetta worked on marketing their work on the Rael’s Facebook page, keeping people informed of new drinks and upcoming Thursday night music jam sessions, where local musicians gather weekly to play music together.

Unfortunately, in 2021, the family suffered a tremendous loss, as Enriquetta was killed in a tragic accident. Losing an instrumental part of their family, Cynthia and the family drew close to one another as they coped and processed their grief.

“Our community has been there for us every step of the way. We never have walked through this path alone; they surrounded us as if we were their heartbeat. They nurtured us and gave us love and peace. Being part of this community has given us a lot of stability in our lives. Nurturing the connection to the community and keeping the connections alive—it’s important. I have always been involved in our community and I am so grateful to our people who have been so supportive when we needed them.”

Through their loss, the family has continued to work together to make their multi-generational store successful. Everyone plays a different role, her husband Armando (Manders) helps with fixing things along with her son Armando. Her daughter-in-law Valerie continues to help with the coffee shop, making unique and distinct coffee blends to the area. Her daughter Esperanza and granddaughter Sophia, and grandson Robert and Robert’s dad Rob Robinson help with deliveries and inventory. Her son Javier along with his children come into the shop to help when they’re in town as well. Her 4-year old grandson Emmanuel is the real manager of the shop, keeping Cynthia on her toes.

At the end of the day, Rael-Vigil is happy with the successes her store has seen over the past eight years. “Our family stays circled around one another, just as my parents would’ve wanted it. We are keeping our family business alive and ensuring that people know about our current work, but also the history of our business and how we were instrumental in establishing the place we call home on the same family land which has been in the family for generations. I am forever grateful for the support from our community and will forever be involved in our community.” she says.

Courtesy Photo Cynthia and Valerie work together to make coffee on a Saturday afternoon