Butte just got a little bit hipper with the addition of an escape-room venue.
On Friday, Todd and Amanda Schreier unveiled Escapology — an entertainment business in the Butte Plaza Mall that’s capitalizing on the escape-room phenomenon.
In case you haven’t heard of an escape room before, the concept goes like this: participants are locked in a room that transports them into an imaginary scenario, such as a 1930s train car or the laboratory of a mad scientist. Participants have to solve a series of puzzles to find the code that will release them from the room. They have 1 hour to complete the task with the aid of a video and clues hidden in plain sight within the room. Think of it as a strategy-based videogame combined with the live-action of a mystery dinner theater.
Escapology is part of a larger franchise that has about 40 locations across the United States and world, including in Orlando, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Dubai — and now in Butte.
The couple said they tried an escape room on the East Coast and knew almost instantly that they wanted to open their own location.
“We were visiting my parents for Mother’s Day,” said Amanda, a Kentucky native. “They had just opened a new escape room in town and we had never experienced it. So we tried all weekend in two different cities to book an escape room and they were sold out the entire weekend. And I said, ‘if it’s sold out in Kentucky I couldn’t imagine what it’s going to do everywhere else.”
The couple soon found themselves researching 16 different escape-room franchises, ultimately settling on Escapology.
The Butte escape-room venue has five rooms from which to choose, each with its own difficulty level and theme. Groups can complete the whole circuit, or they choose the room’s individually.
One of the rooms, the antidote room, presents a world gone awry at the hands of a mad scientist.
“Dr. Walter Brandt is a high-ranking chemical weapons specialist for the United States government,” the room’s description reads. “He has gone rogue and has become a threat to the US and potentially the entire human race. You are a team of scientists investigating Dr. Brandt's abandoned laboratory. You've been tasked with finding the only known antidote to virus TS-51 before it gets passed into enemy hands.”
To heighten the experience, each room is elaborately decorated.
Todd led The Montana Standard into a room with a train-car theme, the Budapest Express, explaining that the room was soon to be installed with flat screens to simulate train windows (replete with views of falling snow) and speakers issuing the hum of a moving train.
“We really do try to make you feel like you’re there,” said Todd.
Escapology’s rooms can be solved by teenagers, Todd and Amanda said, but their main demographic is adults. Todd said they’ve already booked a few birthday parties, along with company holiday parties and retreats.
“This is a great tool to existing businesses,” Todd said. “They want to use it as a way for their staff to learn how to creatively solve problems so they can take the same skillsets they learn in our rooms and apply it in their workplace.”
But it’s not just participants who will be using their creativity and problem solving.
The couple had a rigorous interview process to recruit their employees, who have to be prepared to handle the unexpected. Because in an escape room, Amanda said, “anything can happen.”
When asked about their mall location the couple said they chose the mall because of its ample parking, existing infrastructure and zoning designation.
The mall also houses the couple’s other enterprise, Schreier Group, a consulting company through which they’ve invested in a handful of local businesses.
Amanda, 34, and Todd, 33, said they started the consulting company in January after moving to Butte from Portland.
Todd, a former Montana Tech student, said he spent a healthy portion of his relationship with Amanda convincing her that Butte was the place to be. Although not a Butte native, Todd said he hopes to demonstrate just as much enthusiasm for the town as a born-and-bred local.
“The worst thing that I hear locally is, ‘hey, it’s a weekend, let’s go to Bozeman,’” said Todd. “(Instead) we want people to say, ‘let’s go to Butte.’”
Although Escapology may be a new concept to some, Todd said he’s confident about his prospects.
“Meeting with the Escapology corporate team and bringing our business acumen to this industry, for us we feel like it’s the recipe for success,” said Todd. “We feel really good about launching this business.”