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The town of Pena Blanca, New Mexico is a census-designated place (CDP) with a population of 661. Pena Blanca’s name is derived from the Spanish term for “white rock.” The median household income is $24,063, with 80% of the population being Hispanic. There’s a rock quarry, a tiny family run grocery store and package (liquor) store and a food truck in Pena Blanca. The nearest services are 35 miles away in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Then last week I heard the news that we had a new coffee shop in Pena Blanca.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving home from Albuquerque and as I was slowing down to drive through the little town, I noticed a cute wooden sign that simply said: “Seed’s Art Cafe.” There was a tiny little building, the size of a “She Shack” that was brightly painted but closed.

The owner of Seed’s is an artist who bought this old adobe house on a couple of acres last year. She had a gallery in Santa Fe and COVID struck so she, like many small business owners, closed her doors and took her art online. Then she decided to do something she has wanted to do for some time. Open up a coffee shop and sell art, fresh vegetables (from her garden, all grown from “seeds” in her funky turquoise greenhouse), pastries and of course amazing teas and coffee.

She was COVID compliant on purpose because you cannot sit inside the she-shack, it’s too small, instead you can enjoy your beverage under the shade of an old cottonwood tree. There are no “to go” cups. She doesn’t want to contribute to unnecessary trash, so you are welcome to bring your own, but really, what’s the hurry. Have a seat, and she’ll bring it out in a big old coffee mug. If you order iced tea (that she brews fresh every day from her own herbs) it’s served in a Mason jar.

She invites you to take a stroll through her vegetable/flower garden if you like. She’s open M-W-F from 8am to noon. And she is committed to opening two Saturdays a month to sell fresh veggies from her garden.

Her long-range plan is to figure out how to stay open all year long. She wants to do special events like a “high tea” and live music (acoustic) under the tree. She’s even thinking about buying the old rock quarry that is right next door and turning it into a park, with a playground for kids and a stage so she can have regular live folk music concerts.

In normal times this makes some sense because tourists drive right past Seed’s to get to the Tent Rocks National Monument, Cochiti Lake Campground and the Cochiti Champion Golf Course, all about 5 miles further down the road. But all of this is closed due to COVID as it all rests on Cochiti Pueblo Land.

But that did not deter her. In fact, she said some people don’t believe that it’s all still closed so they go up anyway, turn around and stop in, happy to have at least experienced something peaceful and wonderful for their effort.

She has made a believer out of me how a business can build on Instragram. On her menu board was the instruction to go to @seedsnewmexico for updates. It’s where we go now to find out what she’s “pulling” from the garden, what special treasures await us (tomorrow it’s fresh cut sunflower and zinnia bouquets for $12.00) and if she may be closed to take her dog Peaches to the vet (she did that last week).

She has single handedly brightened up our community. Everyone is talking about it, and have become “regulars” right away. She’s been open nearly 3 weeks and business is booming. It’s where we go to gather, while social distancing, and relax and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

On paper this business model makes absolutely no sense. A classic coffee shop with espresso, gourmet tea, pastries, art and vegetable stand 35 miles from one of the top ten tourist attractions in the US (Santa Fe). The entire population of Cochiti Pueblo, The Town of Cochiti Lake and Pena Blanca is slightly over 1,500. Which would be her “target audience” because we are the only ones out here for miles and miles. If you look at the demographics of all three it doesn’t scream “Coffee house people.”

So why does it work? Carson. You’ve never met a more down-to-earth, kind, caring, truly exceptional human being than the owner. From the moment we walked through the gate at Seed’s we knew it was something special. It’s truly a gift. We know that a good member experience can make all the difference in the world, especially today when everyone is a bit on edge and our world has changed forever. It costs nothing to be kind, compassionate and empathetic but the value is beyond measure.

As Howard Schultz said of the Starbucks business model, “We are not in the fast food business. Fast food fills your belly, but a good coffee house fills your soul.”

At a time when you cannot sit in a Starbucks, and are relegated to the drive-up experience (fast food) Carson nailed it with the simplicity of the she shack on the farm in Pena Blanca. Check out her website for her story and if you’re ever in the area, stop by, I’ll likely be sitting under the cottonwood tree sipping herbal iced tea.

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August 2020