On a 2014 trip to Miami, Ali Ibrahim and a friend sought something different to do other than the typical beaches, clubs and expensive attractions. They stumbled upon a themed, interactive, living puzzle adventure called an escape room.
Exactly what is an escape room? A group of players, typically from two to eight, are given a mission and placed into a themed room where they must explore to find hints and clues. They may find a container that needs a passcode to open, or a lock that needs a key or combination. If they search hard enough, they can figure out passcodes, open all the locks, find hidden items, and ultimately free themselves–all within 60 minutes. All rooms have a different theme that comes with a backstory, which unfolds as players advance.
At first Ali was not sure he would enjoy the escape room in Miami but had a great time and became hooked, trying other escape rooms in different areas.
“We decided that was something we wanted to try to open up ourselves,” Ibrahim said.
Living in Syracuse, N.Y., at the time, Ibrahim had relatives in Cleveland. He and a partner decided that one of those cities would be ideal for the concept.
“We chose Cleveland over Syracuse because of the [larger] population,” Ibrahim said. “We were the first to market [in Cleveland], along with one other escape room shortly thereafter, which I believe contributed to the success of [our] escape room.”
Ibrahim drove the roughly 335 miles between Syracuse and Cleveland on weekends to help start the business there.
“After we hired employees and a manager, I focused on the online presence since that’s my background,” he said. “We were very happy [with how it was received]. People love it.”
Focusing on that one location, they re-invested profits back into that site. At the same time, Ibrahim worked as a network engineer for mid-sized companies in upstate New York. He accepted an offer from Amazon Web Services to be a Cloud support engineer, moving to Loudoun County last year.
Here, he decided to start a similar attraction, Escape Room Ashburn, and eventually sold his interest in the Cleveland escape room to his partner.
Since late June, families, youth baseball teams, corporate groups looking to build teamwork and others have made their way to the second floor of a small, quiet shopping center on Truro Parish Drive, near Broadlands Sports Bar, Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Opera and Brickoven Pizza.
They’ve become robbers forced to break into a bank vault as a clock ticks down from 60 minutes to save their families held hostage by the mob. They’ve donned orange jumpsuits and tried to make their way out of jail as a guard watches. They’ve turned into seekers of a golden ticket in a Willy Wonka candy fantasy room.
And in a nod to the area’s federal contractors and employees, they’ve become White House staffers seeking to keep the unknowing president from reciting 1980s songs rather than giving a speech.
“This is a place where families, friends, and groups can really bond,” said Ibrahim. “It goes beyond the kind of interaction when you go to a movie or go bowling.”
Recent patrons report a rush of adrenaline as they try to escape from, or solve, their predicament in an hour. One customer who broke into the bank vault wrote that it was like “playing Grand Theft Auto from my younger years…It really kept you on your toes.”
“Bank Heist” has been the most popular of the four themes at Escape Room Ashburn, Ibrahim said. “Candy Shop” is most popular among families with younger kids. With multiple rooms, repeat customers are not unusual, he said.
Groups from area employers like Amazon Web Services and Verizon have visited, with the largest group being 35. As many as eight guests can fit into a room. A youth baseball team with their parents had an exciting time. Couples stop by to join strangers in rooms after eating out. Birthdays, anniversaries and other events have been celebrated there.
“Parents have told me that they are glad they have something close to do with their kids so they don’t have to go all the way to D.C.,” Ibrahim said.
Escape rooms began cropping up in Asia and Europe in the mid-2000s. There are a few others in the region, mostly in Washington, D.C. and it’s suburbs.
As a kid, Ibrahim enjoyed visiting haunted houses and similar entertainment venues. With an engineering background, he has designed various technological innovations into the sets.
Working fulltime for Amazon, he hired a manager and four other employees for operations. Hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s something that is a lot of fun for me, too,” Ibrahim said.
“My team and I went to Escape Room Ashburn last night,” wrote “There were 7 of us, so we split up into 2 groups so we can try out the different rooms. My group started out with the Bank Heist. I felt like I was playing Grand Theft Auto from my younger years and it was amazing! It really kept you on your toes since those 60 minutes goes by quick when you’re trying to get out with the money.”
“Then we tried the Candy Shop. It was so bright and colorful, definitely catches your eyes, along with the candy that they let you have,” stated Lockhart. “You definitely have to use some of your senses for this one. We successfully completed this room with plenty of time to spare, and were made aware that our team was the only one that had beaten that room so far! It was overall an awesome experience!”1 comment