New business offers great escape

Kathy Steinberg and Frank Lisella stand in the pirate-themed room of their new Sarnia Escape cafe. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Looking for an escape? A new Sarnia business literally has the answer.

Sarnia Escape opened this month and is already turning away business on weekend nights. The gluten-free café on the corner of Devine and Indian Road, not only offers board games for the entire family, but has also introduced escape room entertainment to the city.

Escape room gaming has been popular in Asia for years and is now a big trend in larger Canadian cities like Toronto and London.

When Sarnia’s Kathy Steinberg had her first experience last fall, she began thinking it could be popular here as well.

Escape rooms involve a team of people locked into a room, searching for clues to get out. They use logic and teamwork to locate a key to free themselves. It’s not just fun to decipher the riddles, puzzles and cryptograms, it’s also a race against the clock, explains Steinberg.

She and her father-in-law Frank Lisella are business partners and spent more than three months designing four escape rooms for their new café.

Sarnia Escape offers themed escape rooms named Alcatraz, the Mad Hatter Tea Party, Crazy Carnival and Pirates Treasure Trove. Participants pay between $16.95 and $18.95 each, depending on the day of the week, to solve the puzzles and get out of the locked rooms within 45 minutes. Statistically, only about 20 per cent manage to do it in time.

“We’ve only been open two weeks and already I’ve had people come in three times and try three different rooms,” said Steinberg. “On Friday night, we were turning people away for the 8 p.m. slot.”

Sarnia Escape also offers dozens of board games, which can be played for $2.50 per person while relaxing in the café.  The cost is waived if purchases are made at the snackbar.

Every day, Steinberg and her sister bake gluten-free goods including tarts, biscuits, pies and cakes that are served at the café or can be taken home.

“We didn’t want to open a café with only the escape rooms,” she explained. “In our community I thought this combination of three things – the gluten-free bakery, the board game café and the escape rooms – may give us a good shot.”

She has been a stay-at-home mom for the past 15 years while Lisella is a retired boilermaker with a penchant to keep busy.

“I’ve lived within six blocks of this location my whole life,” said Steinberg. “We think this is a great place for us because there’s a lot of traffic, a lot of parking, and we want to see the revitalization of the southend.”

Sarnia Escape is on the southwest corner of Eastland Plaza. Eight tables can accommodate about 30 customers. Board games and escape rooms are for the entire family although Steinberg says the escape rooms may not be appropriate for children under 13 whose attention span is short.

For more information, visit www.sarniaescape.com, or call 519-344-6736.

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or 226-932-0985.