Imagine for a moment working in a building where each room contains a completely unique and independent story. Then imagine switching those rooms out when you think of a more compelling idea, or the original idea begins to feel stale. Then do it eight times.
It may be odd to think of room design as storytelling, but that’s the foundation of Kim and Roger Siegrist’s passion project Key to Escape, an escape room nestled a few blocks away from the heart of downtown Statesville. March marked one year since the business opened its doors, and intricate puzzles, to the public, and the owners seem just as buzzed about it as they did on day one.
Roger does admit, though, that running the business can eat into potential quality time with each other.
“When we don’t get to see each other because I’m here for 15 hours building a prop, (or) soldering wires together late at night, you start to say ‘Is it worth it?’” he wondered aloud. “But then you get to see the glee on these people as they come out, it almost makes it completely worthwhile.”
But Roger is also quick to acknowledge he’s mainly the engineering and execution side of the equation. He lets his wife Kim drive design and storyline, a process she said usually happens around 2 a.m. The couple only visited a handful of escape rooms in preparing to build their business, but they aren’t in the business to shell out copies of other escape rooms.
“We had no real preconceived notion of a formula of how to do it,” Kim said. “So we really got to let our imaginations create the rooms. There’s a lot of people who have done a ton of rooms that just generate the same style over and over again, (I) can’t tell you how many bank heists (we’ve seen). (It’s) the same themes, same story lines and the same puzzle play a lot of times. We just have nothing like that here.”
Kim pointed out that some escape rooms buy preplanned puzzle rooms and prop designs from third-party companies. Their solution is to keep things local.
The Key to Escape building itself is an old church that sits directly across from the Statesville Police Department. The inside features stain-glass making references to some of the rooms. Portions of the staircase railing on the second floor even have keys molded out of wood; Kim mentioned those were made locally.
“We are Statesville,” Kim remarked. “Everything here is we say ‘locally owned; nationally known.’ We do this from scratch, (by) ourselves… Everything comes from a place close by, and we love doing it that way.”
And they’ve stayed fairly busy.
There’s a map kept near the entrance marking where customers have come from. Kim and Roger are especially proud to say they’ve had a few international visitors.
Key to Escape opened its third room, called “Under Pressure,” May 25. The room is a based on a turn-of-the-century distillery, filled with references to booze and gangsters. Roger said “Under Pressure” opening means the business is now 100-percent operational, and even though it’s taken over a year to reach that goal, it’s been fun to watch the transformations happen.
As for keeping things fresh, Roger and Kim are floating around a few new ideas like a portable escape room fashioned out of an RV. They also try to swap in new rooms about every 18 months, but Kim said the ones they have in place now are still popular.
“We had initially a plan, and we learned that is a very flawed way to do it,” she said. “We thought (building a room) was very formulaic, and it’s not. The creative process and the fact that we build so much of what we do, we would rather it take a little bit longer and churn out the right kind of product than to push it.”
Roger put it a little more plainly.
“I think we’ve got to point where we could say ‘How long should it take to build this room?’ (and) multiply it times five,” he said.
And whether it’s for a family, or a business doing a team building session, Kim and Roger called the real treat providing an immersive experience.
“There’s reward in that for us,” he said. “When I drill a hole in my finger, or all the challenges that might be like ‘We put $50,000 into a room?’ Those kind of things, they become worth it when you get to the share the experience with the community.”
Kim echoed that sentiment.
“We have put a lot more into this than we have gotten out of it yet,” she said. “It’s got longevity. It’s going to work for us, but I honestly wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way. This is how we bring people to Statesville. If you’re just the average escape room, you’re not going to do that.”
Want to go?
Key to Escape
HOURS: Noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; by appointment for groups Monday and Tuesday.
WHERE: 150 E. Sharpe St., Statesville.
MORE INFO: Visit keytoescapenc.com .