Meet Max Poppel and Dan Rose, owners of The Crash Pad and Flying Squirrel, a boutique hostel and a hip tapas-style bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee. With their unique and impressive set-up, they’ve changed the face of staying overnight in the Scenic City- whether it be for a weekend of climbing, running, or cycling in the area, or just for going low-key and affordable.
How did you and Dan meet?
Max: We met in upstate New York in college and Dan got me into climbing. We both moved down here for the climbing, but didn’t have a plan to start a business. Then we started thinking about doing a business together and took a business planning class primarily to see if we could start one and not end up hating each other. Dan’s response to that was, “Well we hate each other already so that should be fine.”
Did being part of the climbing community here help you realize that there was a need for a place like The Crash Pad?
Max: That’s where the whole idea came from. When we moved here, we noticed there was a conspicuous lack of a base camp for climbing. When we looked at other climbing areas like one in nowhere Kentucky where we found a pizza place and a campground –there was a whole community built around the sport--and we were blown away that there wasn’t a place like that here. Chattanooga brings us an amazing wealth of climbing in and close to a good-sized city; few cities rival it. Our initial idea was to build a small climber campground out by T-wall, but it was a pretty bad idea for a lot of reasons. We talked to some of the people around town and as we started working on an alternative, we realized that beyond climbing this is an amazing destination for all kinds of outdoor pursuits. Ultimately, when those adventurers were coming to town, we wanted them all to have a place to stay.
RR: How did you get this idea for a high-end hostel?
Max: Once we realized we would expand our user base beyond just climbers, we wanted a more central location downtown, as a destination. We had stayed in some hostels— we knew some had wonderful parts and others were not always so great. We decided to build on the safe, affordable, clean, community aspects that make hostels great.
RR: How close has your dream/vision come to being realized?
Max: The initial vision has evolved certainly from the campground. And we had no idea of having a bar, using local craftsmen, etc. but all these relationships bloomed as the project evolved, and we're more than pleased with that.
RR: Where do you see The Crash Pad going over the next three years? Do you plan to develop Crash Pads anywhere else? Or do you think the Crash Pad is something that really works here and maybe not so much elsewhere?
Max: We came up with a vision of where we wanted to be in 2025. And at the time, 2011, before we had the Squirrel, we thought “Let’s create the hostel and then create a bar that can actually pay for the hostel and then let’s take both on the road.” This boutique hostel concept that we stumbled onto is something that we think every city needs, but the more we think about it the less it seems we take it to every city. It is a sound concept— a clean, safe, and affordable place to stay in the heart of the city; everybody wants that--but if we were to expand, we’d only go to three additional cities. Initially, we looked at where a hostel could go, and the answer is anywhere, but we’ve come to realize that really we have this base camp mentality and there aren’t a ton of cities that have the activities available to support that— so we would want to stick to an outdoorsy place like Chattanooga.
But really, we don’t want to leave the city. We love it and love operating our business the hands-on way we do. We may just try to expand on the hotel/bar concept here.
RR: What is the best thing about running The Crash Pad?
Max: Living a dream we started. I really enjoy conceptualizing through building the business and running it.
RR: The worst thing---
Max: It’s hard to say what is bad about my life, actually. I’m happy. I guess the biggest unforeseen challenge is that when you start a business, you have employees and I’ve never had them before. I was learning my management style as I was working with people. That was kind of hard. But really, nothing.
RR: How about separation between work and personal life—having a personal life when you own a business?
Max: I do okay with it. We created a lean staff of really passionate people and sometimes they don’t take the time they need to. We try to make sure everyone gets a break.
RR: Do you have plans for after The Crash Pad?
Max: No, this is what I want to be doing. There are any number of ways to keep busy with this business and to continue learning, and I want to be in the hospitality industry.