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Brothers challenge people to Escape Modesto

Seri Mitri checks a lock in the King Tut’s Treasure room at Escape Modesto, an escape room experience, in downtown Modesto.
Seri Mitri checks a lock in the King Tut’s Treasure room at Escape Modesto, an escape room experience, in downtown Modesto. jwestberg@modbee.com

If you’ve always wanted to escape Modesto, now is your chance – quite literally.

The new Escape Modesto game center opens in downtown Modesto on Friday, helping to bring the interactive phenomenon to the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Escape rooms, based on a popular genre of video games, challenge people to get out of a locked room by finding clues, solving puzzles and deciphering riddles in a set amount of time. The real-life rooms first began cropping up in Asia in the late 2000s and then the concept took off worldwide soon after.

Escape Modesto is the second business to offer the live-action experience locally. Last month, Modesto’s Laser Quest, part of a nationwide laser tag gaming chain, opened its own escape room.

But Escape Modesto is the only locally owned business, and the rooms were all conceived, created and coordinated by three brothers. The Mitri siblings – Salim, 30; Seri, 28; and Sammer, 22 – grew up in Modesto and graduated from city high schools, and the eldest two still live in town. Middle brother Seri Mitri, a Davis High graduate, said he first learned about escape rooms while traveling in Greece this summer. A friend suggested they try out an escape room while there, but it was sold out.

After researching the rooms further, Seri Mitri said he became intrigued with the idea of opening one in the Valley. The Bay Area has about a dozen escape-room centers and there are more than two dozen in Southern California. In the past year, the craze has been chronicled in publications including The Washington Post and Newsweek and featured on TV by Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres.

“I thought this sounds like so much fun, why don’t we have something like this in Modesto?” he said.

So he recruited his brothers and their expertise to pull together the business. All three brothers have day jobs – Seri Mitri is a fifth-grade teacher, oldest brother Salim Mitri is in orthopedics sales and youngest brother Sammer Mitri is a mechanical engineer. Together, they planned the concept for their 11th Street site, which includes two escape rooms and the space to expand to a third room.

The two rooms in Escape Modesto have different themes – a larger Prison Break room for up to 10 people and a smaller King Tut’s Treasure room for up to eight people. Both rooms give participants an hour to piece together clues and find the key to let themselves out. Both rooms were designed by the brothers entirely, and they found or created all the pieces inside. The prison room is themed to the 1960s, complete with a jail cell and period décor. The King Tut room is filled with Egyptian “artifacts,” including a mummy and sarcophagus.

“It’s exciting and fun. It’s different than just playing a video game or going to a movie,” said Salim Mitri, also a Davis High alum. “It’s tangible.”

Participants must pore over the items in each room, and communication is key when working with a larger group. For those who get stuck, hints are available from the all-seeing monitors watching via closed-circuit cameras. And if the experience of being locked in a room becomes too overwhelming, there are panic buttons for those who want out immediately.

But the goal, of course, is to have an enjoyable adventure. Large groups can come in and work the rooms themselves, or smaller groups can be placed together to solve the room’s secrets. In areas with pre-existing escape rooms, businesses and corporations have used the experiences as team and communication-buildings exercises. The Mitri brothers said the rooms are recommended for those ages 15 and up, though younger children can take part with adult supervision.

“When you think about it, there are a lot of places like Funworks, Boomers, Chuck E. Cheese here for kids, but there isn’t as much for young adults to do,” Seri Mitri said. “So we chose this location for that reason – to be in downtown near restaurants and bars.”

Escape Modesto is nestled in the basement of an office building between the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge and the Firkin & Fox pub in the heart of Modesto. The brothers said they wanted to attract the crowd that comes downtown to see a show, have a nice dinner or go out for drinks.

The rooms must be booked by appointment and will be open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights and all-day Saturdays and Sundays, though special arrangements can be made. Admission is $22 per person, and one of the only rules (besides not to touch the things that say “Do Not Touch”) is that no cameras or cell phones are allowed inside. The brothers said Siri can’t help people figure out the clues anyway, and photos might spoil the surprises for others.

Though, for those who must capture their experience via selfie, the center has an Escape Modesto backdrop where people are invited afterward to pose with signs signaling their successful or unsuccessful escapes – as well as a series of other funny sayings.

The brothers plan to open a third room and will shuffle around and add different clues to the existing rooms to keep the experience fresh and new.

“People say all the time there’s nothing to do in Modesto,” said Beyer High grad Sammer Mitri, who is living in San Jose while finishing his master’s degree. “Well, this is something different. It’s like a board game, but you’re in the board game.”

For more information on Escape Modesto, 912 11th St., visit its website at www.escapemodesto.com or call 209-324-5190.

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

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