SARASOTA -- Two Sarasota families wanted to find a way to escape the humdrum of daily life and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. They wanted to give other people a chance to escape daily life for an hour, too.
Although the two families didn't know about each others' plans to open the same type of business, both opened adventure escape game rooms, that employ puzzles, clues and team work, in Sarasota within the last month. And oddly enough, Escape Room Sarasota and Escape Countdown are located within a five-minute walk of one another.
Owner of Escape Room Sarasota Luis Montanez said he believes the proximity of the two escape game businesses will benefit them.
"When it comes to escape rooms there is no competition," Montanez said. "Anyone who tries one will want to try every one because they're all different."
The concept is the first of its kind in Sarasota. The closest escape game rooms are in Tampa.
Escape Room Sarasota, 6526 S. Tamiami Trail, opened Monday after Montanez and his wife Jennifer Seavey decided they wanted to provide the Sarasota area with "something different. It's good, clean family fun," Montanez said.
On a family vacation in Orlando about four years ago the couple noticed a billboard for an escape room game.
"We did a little research and they're popping up really fast and everyone is doing really well," Montanez said. "We said, 'how much fun would it be to do this as a living?' So we took a shot."
Montanez used to work for Pepsi Co. and Seavey was clocking about 60 hours per week in real estate. The two also wanted to start a business to allow themselves more time with their four children: Luis Jr., 12; Nathen, 10; Miah Isabella, 3 and Jonathan, 2. Escape Room Sarasota is their first location but they are "most definitely" interested in expanding if the first location goes well. To do research for the new business, Montanez and Seavey traveled to Orlando and Tampa to try different escape rooms.
"We figured if we do one close to home the people who want to do it don't have to travel so far," Montanez said.
Escape Room Sarasota has two rooms: an easy-medium "Escape the Library" game and a "medium-hard" Cabin in the Woods. Montanez and Seavey put their heads together to create each concept. The two game rooms can accommodate up to 10 people each.
In the Cabin in the Woods game, the scenario begins with players taking a tour in the rain forest "where your group gets more than they bargained for." In dense fog, the group comes upon a cabin and the tour guide instructs participants to wait inside until the fog clears. As the last person clears the doorway, the guide slams the door, trapping everyone inside. Participants must then find their way out of the cabin within an hour by solving puzzles, codes and riddles. After completing the game, each player receives a free t-shirt proclaiming "I escaped" and a coupon for Domino's Pizza.
Montanez recommends booking online at escaperoomsarasota.com, though phone reservations and walk-ins are available, as well. And if six people book one room, a group of four can book the room at the same time. The game creates bonds between complete strangers, Montanez said.
"Even if you don't know each other, by the time you leave you'll know everyone's name," he said.
Escape Countdown at 6525 S. Tamiami Trail opened about two weeks ago. Owners Renee Ryckman and Brent Alexander have experience in marketing, business management and starting businesses. The two traveled with their sons Logan, 9, and Dylan, 12, to Singapore and participated in an escape game. On following family trips, Logan and Dylan asked for repeat experiences, Ryckman said.
"It turned out to be the most fun thing all of us had ever done," Ryckman said. "My boys said, 'we have to come back mom.' I thought, 'we've got something here.'" Upon their return to the U.S., Ryckman and Alexander began researching the idea of starting their own escape room business. About two months ago, they opened the first Escape Countdown in Tampa. The couple has plans for an Escape Countdown in Atlanta, as well.
The escape game business appealed to Ryckman and Alexander for a variety of reasons.
"This is one of the few things for families and it is multi-generational," Ryckman said. "Everyone can really enjoy this and have a great time and learn something and it's just fun to see people having such a great time together. It's also great for team-building."
The Sarasota Escape Countdown offers two games: the Mad Hatter and Jail Break. The Mad Hatter is the newest game and is a play on Alice in Wonderland, where players begin the game "hiking" through the woods, stumble and fall into a long, dark tunnel. They end up interrupting a tea party and must use logic and critical thinking to return home.
"It's sort of like a scavenger hunt; you have to find things, solve some logic puzzles to test your brainpower and there are some locks you have to unlock," Ryckman said. "It's all of those sort of things rolled into one and you have to get everything and you have an hour to do it." Ryckman and Alexander, like Montanez and Seavey, conceived the concepts for each separate game on their own. Together, Ryckman said she and Alexander played "probably between 40 to 50" escape games before creating their own.
Escape Countdown offers online booking at escapecountdown.com as well as booking by phone. The games at Escape Countdown can accommodate up to eight people.
Neither Escape Countdown nor Escape Room Sarasota forces participants to stay in the game rooms until they are finished. All participants have the option to leave if they feel anxious or claustrophobic. All escape games are monitored with cameras in each room and both Escape Countdown and Escape Room Sarasota help participants if they get stuck.
"We want people to be successful," Ryckman said. "If they look like they're struggling we'll give them a hint to get them back on the right track."
All ages are welcome at both businesses, and Ryckman said children are often the stars of the game.
"I learned to listen to my 7-year-old," she said. "Kids see things adults will miss."
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.