Shawn Nagy and Emily Lyons were backpacking through Europe a few years ago when they found themselves trapped in a creepy basement in Budapest, Hungary and had to use every skill they had to make their escape.
While that sounds like the plot to a low-budget horror film, it was the couple’s introduction to the concept of escape rooms. Players in these games are tasked to solve a series of puzzles using clues, hints, and strategy to complete a specific mission and — as the name suggests — escape.
“It was in the basement, a ruined-looking place, the kind of place you’d never normally go. I said to Emily, what happens if you don’t get out of here,” Shawn said with a laugh. “It was quite creepy, but a lot of fun. We ended up playing all three rooms back-to-back-to-back. We said let’s open one of these in London when we get home.”
The couple returned from their European adventure in August 2014 and were open for business on York Street by Dec. 1.
As Shawn explains it, “We didn’t take a deep breath at all,” and instead jumped all in to bringing their business to life.
Escape Canada was a success from the start, but before long the property owner sold the building and the couple started looking for a new home.
While that might have ended some businesses, Shawn explains it gave the couple the opportunity to rethink their approach to the industry, invite in as a third partner, David Korhonen, and now they’re ready to “conquer the industry” yet again.
Escape Canada has relaunched at 335 Richmond St. with one room — it’s themed after the sci-fi horror franchise Resident Evil — and several others set to come online down the road.
For David, who has a background in industrial automation and design, the opportunity to bring his skills to the escape room business is one he has relished.
Not only does he enjoy the challenge of creating the room’s locking mechanisms and other technical challenges, but it also embraces his life-long love of a certain cartoon mouse.
“I’m also a Walt Disney fanatic. Ever since childhood I wanted to do something in themed entertainment. Up until escape rooms, there wasn’t that opportunity,” he explains. “I started applying my electronics and technology skills to their rooms . . . this was a perfect match for me. Shawn and Emily and I just clicked right off the bat. I really liked that whatever I said — no matter how crazy it was — they did it or came up with something even crazier.”
Escape Canada’s former home was spread over some 2,650 sq. ft., but their new home comes in at just short of 6,500 sq. ft.
All that added space was great for Shawn and Emily’s creativity, but it also allowed them to embrace, with David’s help, a more modern approach to escape rooms.
Imagine, Shawn explains, trying to break into “a Level 5 Security Clearance Facility,” and trying to get into “this huge nitroglycerin chamber,” only to find it locked with a padlock and key.
To him, that scenario just didn’t make sense given what he wants to do with Escape Canada.
“I would say eight out of 10 people walk through our door saying they need to find a key to get out of the room; that’s an expired way of thinking,” Shawn said. “In 2014, that did us just fine, but today it’s a different game. Whether that game exists or not, we’re going to create it.”