There’s 60 minutes on the clock.
Friends, families, and colleagues are locked in a room and must work together to find clues, solve puzzles, and crack codes to find the key to the outside.
They’re called escape rooms and they’re on an upward trend in entertainment.
“Your entire group is working toward a common goal, but it requires so many different types of thinking,” said Alice Cheung, 30, owner of Bull City Escape. “When you’re under the time pressure it really highlights people’s individual strengths within a collaborative group effort.”
Cheung brought this interactive experience to Durham in 2015 after attending a joint seminar by the Durham Tech Small Business Center and the Women’s Business Center of North Carolina.
“The seminar gave me the confidence I needed to open the business,” said Cheung. “I wouldn’t consider myself a natural entrepreneur so that was a big mental hurdle to overcome. But being in that space and being aware of all of these free resources made me realize that there’s a community here that’s going to be supportive.”
The idea stemmed from a leisure scroll on TripAdvisor during a vacation Cheung took to Nashville.
“I was just looking for things to do when I found an escape room. I decided to try it and loved it, then I looked more purposefully at escape rooms when I traveled,” said Cheung. “The more I played, the more I kept thinking about what I would do differently. There was nothing like it in Durham or the Triangle at the time so I thought this would be the perfect place for this sort of thing.”
When the idea hit, Cheung was working full-time at Duke University. She opened the business in summer 2015 by additionally working nights and weekends, but just a few months in, she decided to leave Duke and operate Bull City Escape full-time.
“When I started in 2015, it was such a new idea. It was hard to explain what escape rooms were to get business insurance. It felt pretty isolating at first, but the small business seminar was so supportive and excited to hear what plans I had. It made me feel more confident about talking to other people about it and it opened up a whole network community within Durham that I’m extremely grateful for and rely on every day.”
Bull City Escape features three game rooms, all designed in-house and unique to their facility.
“It was just a lot of notes jotted down at first, but the seminar helped make it concrete,” Cheung said. “It really gave me the confidence to be able to do this, otherwise I think they’d just be vague ideas that I keep dreaming of, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to implement.”
Cheung also supports the Durham Living Wage Project, which urges employers to pay living wages so that all workers can prosper.
“I’ve been able to hire and build a team that I trust 100 percent and are amazing,” Cheung said. “I feel more deeply connected to people who live and work in Durham and it’s an honor to be able to contribute to the health of this community and help build the kind of city that I want to live in.”
Cheung says she’s grateful for the Durham Tech Small Business Center and Women’s Business Center of North Carolina for resources they offer small business owners.
“It was great to see how supportive Durham is of small businesses,” Cheung said. “Seeing so many people who are passionate about small businesses and contributing to the growth of Durham was really inspiring and motivational.”
Bull City Escape is open Thursday through Sunday and located at 711 Iredell Street in Durham.
To learn more about small business seminars offered by Durham Tech, please visit: https://www.durhamtech.edu/sbc/