Saandra Bowlus Crafts Community and Coffee at Pink Owl


Olivia Rubin, Contributor

From the edgy black walls and vibrant neon signs, to the pink velvet chairs and pop music filling the room, walking into Pink Owl Coffee envelops all customers with a sense of warmth and welcoming. Customers from all over the North Bay visit for a productive study session, a quick grab-and-go latte, or visit with a friend. Since coming to San Rafael six years ago, Saandra Bowlus has quickly built a thriving business,  and become an influential, powerful, and determined member of the San Rafael community. 

She and her husband, Joe, have had so much success in San Rafael that they have plans to expand out of the Bay Area.  

Born and raised in the Tampa, Florida area, Bowlus gained experience in the hospitality industry by waiting tables, managing restaurants and focusing on fine tuning her customer service skills. In her adult years, she became a massage therapist and owned her own practice. She has always been interested in helping others through holistic practices and spiritual healing. At the core of everything she learned, delivering an excellent customer experience has always been her goal. 

When the Bowlus family was on vacation in San Rafael, they fell in love with the lush beauty, and friendly people. She knew she had to move to the West Coast, it was calling her. Bowlus has two teenage sons who were about to start High School, but the draw to San Rafael was too strong to ignore for the entire family.  She recalled, “When we got back to Florida and talked to our kids about the opportunity of moving, everyone was on board.”  

So in 2017, Bowlus and her family packed up their life in Florida and began searching for places to rent in San Rafael. They settled in the Sun Valley area. Bowlus continued practicing massage therapy and picked a location for her practice years before the first Pink Owl shop. Her practice was located in the strip mall with Jack in The Box and Moonlight Deli. 

Five years ago, the unthinkable happened. Bowlus was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to stop her massage therapy career. Having recently moved, she didn’t have insurance to cover the medical costs, but Marin General Hospital was able to help her cover the expenses and put her on the road to recovery. Inspired by the generosity of the hospital, she wanted to spread that generosity to her new community. She decided to pursue something that she and Joe had only dreamed of: opening a coffee shop. 

Bowlus looked at her massage studio and realized that all of the bones needed to build a coffee shop were there. Once construction began, the San Rafael community got to see the coffee shop come to life. 

Once they had the location, it was time to choose the name. Bowlus went back and forth through hundreds of names because she wanted something that her and Joe could trademark, something unique. They officially opened Pink Owl in 2020.

Pink comes from the importance of breast cancer awareness, with a percentage of the coffee shop’s profits going towards breast cancer organizations. Bowlus passionately explained, “For me, giving back to what ended up saving my life is huge.”  She added proudly, “Owls are amazing creatures and signs of strength, regrowth, and rebirth. We are the only Pink Owl in the world so we trademarked the name.”

Coffee shops have always been a place of gathering, a place where people could study, connect with one another, or catch up on work. A typical afternoon at Pink Owl consists of high school kids working on projects, parents with babies enjoying a get together, or neighborhood locals chatting on the fluorescent pink chairs. Bowlus has created a space where anyone can find a space to be productive, while simultaneously enjoying a specialized coffee roast. 

Owning a small business does not come without trials and tribulations. The financial parts are the hardest and can bring uncertainty at times. This was especially true right after the shop opened.  “When the pandemic and shutdown happened it was hard for people to find ways to support local businesses to keep us all thriving,” said Bowlus. “The community helped us figure that out.”

When planning, Bowlus intended Pink Owl to be a place where young minds can grow and thrive. Frequent Pink Owl customer and current SRHS junior Jane Stanley says, “I love Pink Owl because it’s a great place to study and I always see other people studying there too.” 

Pink Owl differs from coffee shops like Starbucks and Philz because of the one-on-one relationships the Bowlus family, and all Pink Owl staff build with their customers. Saandra considers all of their employees as part of her family. “I love what I do because I love the people that work for me and help the community,” said Bowlus. 

Pink Owl has a very bright future with a recent location opened in downtown San Rafael as well as plans to expand into college towns, Southern California, and even NYC. Bowlus continues to mentor others who want to start coffee shops or other small businesses. She focuses on the importance of community, kindness and customer service.