European hostels influence local business owners |

European hostels influence local business owners

Griffin Rogers
Elias Small, left, and Wolfie Shapiro recently opened Mellow Mountain Hostel at 4081 Cedar Ave. in South Lake Tahoe.
Griffin Rogers / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

From running with bulls in Spain to sleeping on beaches in France, to backpacking around Europe to working at hostels in Asia, it’s clear the owners of the new Mellow Mountain Hostel in South Lake Tahoe have had their share of nomadic experiences.

At 23 years old, Elias Small and Wolfie Shapiro — two friends who grew up together and moved to Lake Tahoe when they were 18 — share several stories about the people they’ve met and the places they’ve been while traveling together.

A few years ago, the duo traveled around Europe and the Middle East for several months, meeting strangers on trains or buses and staying with them for days at a time.

“Getting lost and living every moment,” Small said, “that’s when I feel the most free.”

Eventually, the two friends returned to South Lake Tahoe. They started catering to those following the same peripatetic lifestyle they too have enjoyed, by offering up their couches or spare bedrooms to travellers just passing through.

Their house guests would reach out to them through a couch surfing website that connects travellers with locals. The experience got the two friends thinking: what if they could do something they loved while making a little money doing it?

Several months later, Small and Shapiro opened Mellow Mountain Hostel on July 5.

“If you’re not going to be able to move around, it’s nice to be able to be in a spot that’s ever-changing,” Small said.

The hostel, located at 4081 Cedar Ave., currently features 11 dorm-style rooms and a 1,200-square-foot common room. It will also have seven private rooms when remaining construction is complete.

Small said the ideas he and Shapiro have for the business are partially based on their experiences at hostels around the world. For example, one hostel — in Lisbon, Portugal — focused on exploring the city as a group.

“Every night, they had this atmosphere where everyone went out together or had dinner together or something,” he said of the hostel in Lisbon. “It felt like a lot of friends just living in a big house.”

Small and Shapiro are now looking at ways to incorporate that experience into Mellow Mountain.

At some point, the two owners would like to take their guests hiking, biking, swimming or exploring other areas of Lake Tahoe, Shapiro said.

“We’re trying to have a good time ourselves,” he said, “and we’re hoping it rubs off on other people.”

With such a large community of travellers in the area, Shapiro and Small said a clean and affordable hostel, like Mellow Mountain, is needed in the area. So far, business seems to indicate they are right.

Small said the hostel’s first two weekends were “slammed” and that many of the hotel’s guests were hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Revered Blister and Bird Bath were the nicknames of two guests the hostel owners have enjoyed meeting so far, they said.

“People get too wrapped up in their little worlds,” Small said. “People are small. You should do as much as you can.”

Prices at Mellow Mountain Hostel range from $18 to $36 per night. For more information or to make reservations, visit

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