Interview with (the amazing) Michele Ware
Founder of (the amazing) Hoodwinked Escape
by Waverly W., 8 years old
and Jude W.S., 9 years old
When you were a kid, was your goal to open an escape room?
When I was a kid, escape rooms didn’t exist! But I loved playing video games, and I also enjoyed helping my mom in her office. She would take me to work with her, and her co-workers would give me a quarter here and there to do filing, get them water, and then when I became a teenager I used to have a little business doing lemonade stands and writing resumes for people.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New York, in this neighborhood! I’m a native New Yorker, I’ve lived in all five boroughs, and I moved to Manhattan in 2005 and that brought me full circle. My family migrated here from South Carolina back in the early 1940s and they moved to Harlem. We moved to other boroughs so when I came back here it was like coming back to my roots and learning a lot more about my family. My mother would tell me, “Oh, Michele, right down the street I learned how to swim!”
How did you get the idea to open Hoodwinked Escape?
I used to manage an accounting department and I would always take my staff on trips outside of the office so we could get to know each other and bond a little bit and form a different kind of respect for each other – it’s not just “co-workers.” We are people, and I felt that we were much more productive that way. Back in 2004 when one of the first Escape Rooms came to New York, we went to experience it and I thought it was an amazing concept – that was the business that was going to take me out of the work force. I’ve always thought about so many different ideas but none of them were really the one, this was it. I was always wanting my staff to be happy and this concept is all about team building.
(Mom) Do you get a lot of co-workers coming here together?
We get lots of companies that come in for team building, a lot of educators, we transform our lounge area to a workshop facility, we have an in-house Psychologist that does team building and leadership strategy workshops, after the escape room experience, they come out and recap and everyone talks about the strategies they used …. I would say the “key takeaway” is that they have a strong sense of respect for each other’s differences.
How many rooms are there?
We have 4 escape rooms. The Hangover Room which is like a dorm room turned upside down, The Spirit of Harlem Room, a room to commemorate Harlem’s rich culture, The Experiment, where you are a “human specimen” and you have to escape confinement and bring back to life the most famous human experiment, and our most challenging room, The Spy Academy, which I can’t believe you escaped! (Note from The Mom – it was definitely very fun challenge and we did use all of our clues…even if we didn’t escape it would have been a really great time!)
What is your favorite room?
There are bits and pieces of each room that are near and dear to me. In the Spirit of Harlem Room, I have pictures of my family, my mom in her early twenties…my daughter’s furniture is in the Hangover Room. In the Spy Academy, I feel that it encompasses a lot of things that I love. I love mystery and Paris. The Experiment is a room that we just opened. We used to have an asylum and people just love that scare factor. I wanted to switch things up but still keep somewhat of a scare but still keep it family friendly – all the rooms are family friendly.
Who is in charge of making up the clues for the rooms?
I am in charge of that, however, I love to create a team of people that has similar expertise so that we could put our heads together and brainstorm and come up with the themes and the clues together.
What happens if you can’t get out? Are you stuck in the room forever?
Of course not, your parents would miss you! When you don’t escape, we call that being “Hoodwinked,” so the Game Master comes in and says, “Oh, you were Hoodwinked!” Then they show you the rest of the game. We encourage you just to have fun. It’s not all about escaping the room!
What does “Hoodwinked” mean?
Hoodwinked means being tricked or bamboozled. So when you go into the room we are not going to make things so obvious. But then, like today, you hoodwinked us, you escaped!
On average, what is the percent of people that escape the rooms?
I would say approximately 35% escape – and you were one of them!
Do you see everything that happens in the room?
Yes. (Here’s a pic of us in the Control Room where you can see and hear everything!)
Who was the voice on the walkie talkie?
That was me!
Do you have any advice for kids who want to follow their dreams like you did?
Sure- just continue to dream and use the people in your life as a resource – your parents, family members, and go after your dreams! Be consistent. Listen to your teachers. What they’re teaching you in school is so important! If they’re teaching how to make time to do your homework, that is so important because they’re teaching you time management, which is so important when you’re following your dreams. Organization is key!
The Mom here! Well, there you have it! Michele not only created and runs the place but she plays along too! Her story is both interesting and inspirational to all of us who dream of “escaping” our everyday careers and finding our true passion like she did. When you go check out Hoodwinked Escape, say hi to her from Kids’ News NYC!
Thank you, Michele!!