Flower Bar
Flower Bar co-founders Noha Gowelly and Sharon Schneider.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
The Here & Now

Flower power: Santa Cruz’s newest café is part coffee shop, part chocolatier, part boutique florist

The Flower Bar takes a hybrid approach to a delightfully European extreme. Truffles, lunch, a flower arrangement for mom or bride, it’s a place ready to offer them all. “We wanted a flower shop, but more than a flower shop,” says a co-owner. That’s what they have created.

A flower shop painted in black? That’s kind of like an Amish hay barn with a neon sign, or Lady Gaga in gray tweed — unexpected, yes, but undeniably beguiling. Who doesn’t instantly want to know more about such a place?

But the thing about the Flower Bar in downtown Santa Cruz is that, however intriguing the paint job, the business plan is even more fascinating.

Flower Bar is not your (sorry) garden-variety flower shop. Yes it is a top-drawer boutique florist offering a full range of floral services for events or special occasions (or just because). But it’s also a café, with curated coffee, a lunch menu, and a front-and-center selection of boldly colored chocolate truffles that look more like art than food.

We can’t confirm that a flower shop hybridized with a sidewalk café is a new thing in the history of humankind. But Flower Bar’s co-founders — Noha Gowelly and Sharon Schneider — were not aware of such a thing when they decided to create it in Santa Cruz.

The emotions of flowers waiting to be shared.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We wanted a flower shop, but more than a flower shop,” said Gowelly on a luscious sunshiny morning outside her new business on the 900 block of Cedar Street. “We wanted to have a place where people can connect.”

The floral business is inherently an emotional business. People buying flowers often come with hearts full of love, compassion, or mourning. Flowers deliver a message and, the co-founders figured, a nice seat at a café with a cup of joe offers up a moment to reflect on that message, the kinds of flowers that best articulate that message, or exactly what you want to say on the accompanying card.

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And it’s also where all that black comes in. Gowelly and her family also owns and operates the nearby restaurant Alderwood. On the morning we chatted, she was stylishly attired in black, like her café. Having mostly grown up in Europe, she gave me the impression that she leaned more toward Parisian elegance than California casual.

“There is an intention to it,” she said, gesturing to all the black, as well as the gold of Flower Bar’s logo. In a shop full of flowers and chocolate truffles, there are already plenty of big colors spilling out, trying to catch the eye, she said. “I wanted to create a blank canvas for what you’re really here to see.”

Much like a stunning diamond displayed on a backdrop of black velvet, the black draws attention not to itself but for the contrasting colorful delights inside.

The black scheme has a very intentional effect on the tone being set.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Yet, there’s also a marketing benefit as well that went into the decision to go full-on noir. Flower shops generally are not always a comfortable place for those who don’t know a lot about flowers (a huge percentage of which are male). Short of hanging antique hardware or sports posters on the wall, the coffee and the black might be an effective means to lure men into the experience of buying flowers.

“I wanted to create a space that was inclusive to everybody,” said Gowelly. “I want dads with young children to walk in and create bouquets for their mom’s birthday. The black gives you that masculine element, so that we have both the masculine and the feminine.”

If Gowelly is all about impact and interior design, co-founder Sharon Schneider comes at the business from the flower end. She’s a veteran of the floral business of more than 20 years and is intimately familiar with the seasons of the industry.

Flower events such as Mother's Day are what move the needle.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

With Mother’s Day imminent, Flower Bar is experiencing its first busy in-person flower occasion (the business opened in mail-order form back in February for Valentine’s Day). Then, it’s onto graduations, prom season, and then all the summer weddings.

“Anniversaries and birthdays too,” said Schneider, mentioning that Flower Bar has a reminder service for those not always adept at the art of remembering significant dates.

Gowelly likened her staff at Flower Bar as “flower counselors,” professionals eager to help clients articulate their feelings in a just-right arrangements. “We are healers and counselors, in a way,” she said.

And Schneider is the flower-counselor-in-chief. “Sharon has a taste in arranging that is absolutely amazing,” said Gowelly. “She’s an artist.”

Schneider draws from a wide variety of flowers from local farms and wants to demystify the process of picking flowers and setting arrangements. “Flowers are for everybody,” she said. “It’s a gift from your heart to theirs. So, come in, choose what you like and I’ll be sure to design it for you. That’s the fun part.”

Chocolate truffles are a main feature.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Or, you could design it yourself. By June, Flower Bar hopes to offer workshops and classes in floral design. “A lot of people like to DIY weddings these days,” said Schneider, “which I’m all for. I’m in the business and I love it. But, (a DIY workshop) is something that can bring your whole wedding party together.”

As for the café, both co-founders say it is not formally related to Alderwood, despite both women’s connection to the restaurant (Schneider’s husband Desmond is Alderwood’s sous chef and helped design the lunch menu).

The chocolates come by way of the San Francisco chocolatier Feve. And Flower Bar coffee is also a San Francisco commodity, from the women-owned roasters Ritual Coffee.

The café is nestled next to the long-time Santa Cruz landmark Gabriella Café and is directly across the street from the Penny Ice Creamery, in the building once housed Sentinel Printers.

Outdoor seating, to the left of the shop as you’re facing it and adjacent to a small parking lot, gives the place a hang-out vibe, though it’s not necessarily the place for the grab-and-go coffee lover on the way to work. (The café is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays).

This curious hybrid was originally set to be open last spring. But a certain worldwide disease outbreak put that on hold, and now, as Santa Cruz and the rest of the world emerges from the pandemic, Flower Bar is ready to bloom.

Outdoor seating in the old Sentinel Printers lot.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

For information on floral services and pricing, visit Flower Bar’s website.