When sisters Lauren and Lee Gonzalez decided to open Lolo Pass Hotel on Portland’s east side, they aimed to build the property as sustainably as possible.
The pair already operated The Local, an affordable hostel-style property in New York, which they opened in 2014 after selling two hostels that they’d owned in Barcelona, Spain. Building and running those properties showed them firsthand how wasteful the hotel industry can be.
“It’s something we struggle with,” said Gonzalez. “Obviously, when people are traveling for leisure it’s energy that doesn’t necessarily need to be used and waste that doesn’t necessarily need to be made. We’ve always thought ‘how we can reduce our footprint?’”
In conversations with their contractors and architects, the sisters often prioritized more efficient building solutions for their property on East Burnside Street. The 87-room hostel-hotel hybrid offers shared or private rooms and is already earning national attention, with writeups in Forbes and Travel and Leisure.
“If we can make a decision that’s more energy saving or not, the calculus is always the one that’s good for the environment,” said Gonzalez. “It’s generally the right thing to do, but also—in the long run — it does save money.”
Knowing that, the sisters chose energy-efficient equipment even if it cost slightly more money up front. Among those choices were a gas-powered deep fryer and three dishwashers for the kitchen/coffee bar. Lolo Pass bought the appliances through Pitman Restaurant Equipment, which helped them get $1,900 in cash incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon.
The new equipment means the sisters will save more than $1,000 a year in utility costs. And Gonzalez said the timing made a big difference to their bottom line when Lolo Pass opened in the spring of 2021.
“It came when we were right at the end of construction and hadn’t started making money yet. The bank account was dwindling toward zero before it started to go back up, so it was great to get that check.”
Also helpful was that Pitman walked her through all the paperwork needed to request the incentives. “They made it very easy for us. They saved copies of my receipts, printed out the forms and I just had to fill them out and send them in.”
With all the challenges that the Gonzalez’s faced opening a new hotel during the pandemic—from construction delays to staff shortages to frequently changing COVID-safety rules—they were relieved to find that the incentive program took minimal effort.
“For people who are starting businesses to have this kind of money come back is super valuable,” said Gonzalez. “I was surprised it existed and that it didn’t require jumping through a bunch of hoops. I think anyone who is eligible should definitely take advantage.”
Beyond that, she said, the new appliances contribute to the heart of what makes Lolo Pass special. “The kitchen and the coffee bar are the touchstones in our lobby. For us it’s really important that the space is a place for neighbors as well as travelers. It’s a gathering place for guests to meet each other and a place to draw the locals in, too.”
Based on the success of the common spaces in the lobby, the sisters decided to build out their food offerings, with a full menu to come. To do that, they’ll soon need another dishwasher from Pitman.
In the meantime, they’re offering simple bar snacks on the roof deck. “There’s something about letting people break bread together that also breaks down some barriers and makes people feel more comfortable,” said Gonzalez. “That’s why it’s important to our business.”
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