How a Lawrence businessman ended up hosting President Obama and family at an escape room business
You know you have found yourself in an interesting industry when you have a legitimate reason to ask a Secret Service agent: Should I handcuff the president? Welcome to Lawrence businessman Matt Baysinger’s wacky business.
Baysinger is the owner of Breakout Lawrence, the escape room business at 727 Massachusetts St. that locks people in a room and gives them a series of puzzles they must solve in less than an hour in order to unlock the door. He also owns the Breakout KC business and an escape room called Breakout Waikiki in Hawaii.
Perhaps you have heard that President Obama and his daughters recently visited the Breakout Waikiki location. Yes, that business is owned by a Lawrence resident. And it has created some stories that will last a lifetime for Baysinger.
Baysinger was eating Christmas Eve dinner when the manager of his Hawaiian location called him. The manager received Baysinger’s automated message that he was busy. But the manager sent Baysinger a text saying he really needed to talk to him.
“He told me President Obama and his family were coming to the breakout room,” Baysinger said. “I said ‘Yeah, you’re a funny guy.’ He said, ‘No, he’s going to be here in a half hour, and I’m freaking out.'”
Sure enough, the business had received a reservation a few days earlier, but they weren’t told the president was coming. Instead, they were only told a celebrity was coming who wanted to reserve all four of the business’ breakout rooms.
To make matters more interesting, the manager of the Hawaiian location actually wasn’t at the store. He also was on the mainland visiting family. A shift leader by the name of Mitch Massey was on duty, and was relaying all of this information to the manager. It was Massey’s first day on the job as a shift leader. It wasn’t all bad, though. Massey is a veteran from the Iraq War, and he shared a story with the president about how he voted for him while serving in Iraq.
A team of about 20 secret service agents arrived at the business about 45 minutes prior to the president’s arrival. Dogs were used to search the premises. Questions were asked. Background checks were conducted.
Then came time for Baysinger’s crew to ask an awkward question. President Obama and his family had signed up for the Mission Manoa room. Normally, that particular escape room involves all participants being placed in handcuffs to start the game.
“So, we asked the Secret Service whether we should place the president in handcuffs,” Baysinger said. “The answer was: ‘absolutely not.'”
As for other details about the breakout adventure, Baysinger said the room Obama participated in is based on the premise that you are an undercover operative in a foreign country. (No word on whether Mr. Putin also has played the game.)
“I think that was probably some fun role-playing for the president,” Baysinger said.
The room is considered the most difficult room to escape at the Hawaiian facility. The president, his daughters and a few other family members did escape — although just 12 seconds before the hour time limit.
“I was pretty nervous,” said Baysinger, who was able to watch it all remotely. “I was really hoping for everyone involved that he would get out.”
I asked Baysinger if the leader of the free world wasn’t able to get out, whether that was a sign the room was too difficult. Baysinger demurred.
“The great thing about breakout is it is a game of communication and teamwork,” Baysinger said. “If he hadn’t gotten out, we would have blamed someone else, not him.”
Baysinger has had the Hawaiian business since late 2015. He opened it a few months after opening the Breakout KC business. Baysinger’s mother grew up in Hawaii, and he had visited a couple of times. When Breakout KC started to flourish, he looked for expansion opportunities, and Hawaii had many of the right demographics.
“And then when you factor in that it is in Hawaii, it becomes a great idea,” said Baysinger, who does make a few trips to check on the business, coincidentally most often in the winter.
Baysinger opened the Breakout Lawrence business in March 2016. He said business is going well here too. In fact, the store plans to open its fourth breakout room at the 727 Massachusetts St. location in January. It will have a Civil War theme, and will have a lot of puzzles related to the Bleeding Kansas time period.
Who knows, maybe President-elect Trump is a Civil War buff. Just in case that doesn’t work, Baysinger has another plan to get Trump to try a breakout room. Baysinger’s Hawaii staff had sent a tweet challenging President Obama to try the breakout room during one of his vacations to Hawaii. Baysinger doesn’t know if the tweet played any role in Obama ultimately visiting the business. But Baysinger has a similar plan nonetheless.
“I’m going to tell my staff to send out another tweet throwing down the gauntlet to see if President Trump can beat President Obama’s time,” Baysinger said.