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Escape Modesto opened recently downtown. The adventure-style activity, with a crime-solving twist has gained popularity in Europe and large metropolitan areas around the United States. Escape rooms have been featured on popular television shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Bachelorette.”
According to Seri Mitri, who opened the business with his brothers Salim and Sammer, it was their answer to a common criticism about their hometown.
“One of the greatest complaints is that there’s nothing to do around here,” he said.
Located downtown at 912 11th St., Escape Modesto has two rooms to defeat. The first is King Tut’s Treasure. In this escape, five to 10 participants enter the room as treasure hunters to locate King Tut’s fortune and get locked inside. Friends, family and strangers work together to piece together the clues using their observation and puzzle-solving skills before the one-hour time limit runs out.
“The concept is that it’s a whole experience, you know, there’s a backstory,” Mitri said. “It’s kind of like when you watch a movie, you get lost in the movie.”
The other room, called Prison Break, is a more difficult escape set in the 1960s. The concept is the same:solve clues to escape before your time runs out.
“We always compare it to kind of a board game brought to life,” Mitri said of both rooms.
The three brothers have seen a significant number of local professionals sign up for the challenge. For businesses, it acts as a team-building exercise.
“The most important [benefits] I would say, are the team getting together outside of their work place to spend time to interact,” Mitri said of the team building aspect.
It can also be used as a tool. Mitri observed many team leaders taking a backseat role in the escapes. According to him, they appeared instead to be watching their employees to determine strengths and see how they work together.
“Everyone brings something different to any team,” said Rose Marie Reavill, an administrative professional at the Stanislaus County Assessor’s Office who has been to Escape Modesto with her co-workers. “When you’re in a situation that you’re not familiar with, you see everyone’s strengths.”
Reavill planned the outing for several members of her office. She credited the experience with bonding her with co-workers she doesn’t work with directly because the exercise made her realize how well they work together.
The office is already planning their next trip to conquer the room and encouraging other staff to try it out. On the first go, they got 98 percent done before their time ran out.
“We had a blast and we can’t wait to do it again,” Reavill said.
The Stanislaus County of Education, E & J Gallo’s finance division and Ceres Unified School District have also held team-building exercises there. However, Escape Modesto isn’t only catching the eye of local businesses. It’s attracted businesses from Merced, Lodi and the foothills as well. A group of In-N-Out managers came all the way from Fresno to compete, according to Mitri.
Escape Modesto accommodates businesses by booking them during off-hours upon request. That way, staff can participate in the escape during regular business hours. For those custom timeslots the cost is $35 per person instead of $25.
On weekends, Mitri said time slots usually fill up. That equates to 200 or more guests on an average weekend.
While children are welcome to join their families in any of the escape rooms, the activity is geared toward adults.
“It’s a challenging experience,” Mitri said.
Young participants may be able to find clues their taller adult teammates miss, but the puzzles ask thought-provoking questions that require adult-level skills. The rooms have a combined success rate of just 20 percent.
No one has made it out with much time left. As of mid-January, records for the King Tut room and the Prison Break room were 40 minutes and 50 minutes respectively. However, the Prison Break room has never been completed without additional clues from staff. The King Tut record was set by a family of escape room enthusiasts visiting Sacramento from Washington D.C. Because of their prowess, Escape Modesto uses 47 minutes as the record — the next fastest time when you count out that group of quasi-experts.
As of mid-January, the brothers were getting ready to open their third room, CSI: Modesto. That option, in which participants act as detectives on the trail of a serial killer, will be the business’ only two-room adventure.
“Some people will start off in the crime scene, some will start in the detective’s office,” Mitri explained.
Though the two rooms are separated by glass, people will be able to communicate between them to share clues.
Mitri said the business doesn’t have any immediate competition in the Central Valley. Other escape rooms are in the Bay Area and Sacramento. Laser Quest, with a teambuilding package of its own, comes closest, but Mitri said it’s still a far cry from what Escape Modesto has to offer.