In fall 2016, Christopher Tokatly and his brother Anthony Tokatly ’14 tried an escape room in San Francisco. At the time, Anthony had already graduated from the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon, and Christopher was a freshman pursuing a business degree.
“It was pretty fun,” Christopher, currently a junior majoring in business, remembered.
Escape rooms—businesses where teams pay for admission then use clues to solve puzzles or mysteries in a themed room with the ultimate goal of “unlocking” a final door—are a major trend in entertainment with dozens in the state of Oregon and at least five in the Eugene-Springfield area alone.
“‘If there’s an opening for something like this,’ we told ourselves, ‘we’re going to go through with it.’ It snowballed from there,” Christopher said.
Walking back to the car, the brothers started “spitballing” about what they would do differently with an escape room of their own design. They decided to check the escape room market in the Eugene/Springfield area.
Soon, a third Tokatly brother, Benjamin ’18, was on board, and Portal Escape Rooms was born. When Benjamin’s brothers first pitched the idea, he was also a student at the Lundquist College of Business, and he had no idea what an escape room was.
Located on Main Street in Springfield, Portal Escape Rooms opened in October 2017, and recently Escapetheroomz.com ranked it in the top 20 escape rooms in the world and top 10 in the United States.
Over the past few years, escape rooms have popped up in many places. They’re generally 60-minute, cooperative adventures, themed around specific, cinematic predicaments.
“It makes for a really fun night out, or a team-building experience—whatever you prefer,” Christopher said.
Portal Escape Rooms has four different multiroom adventures from which groups of guests, ranging from 3 to 10 players, can choose. The rooms vary in difficulty from intermediate to advanced.
“We took the concept and tried to adapt it: bigger rooms, more extravagant automation, more immersive environments, intricate puzzles, better designs,” Christopher said.
Anyone of any age can play, but children need to be able to read and must be accompanied by an adult.
When constructing a room, the brothers do it all—from conception to production. They just completed their most recent adventure, calling it their magnum opus.
Voyager is known as a generation-four escape room, which is the future of the industry because they’re so complex in nature and offer unique and exciting experiences.
“It’s one of a kind in the Northwest,” Benjamin commented. “The closest one like it is in L.A.”
The brothers credit their time as students in the Lundquist College of Business for helping to propel them to where they are today, particularly meeting with the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship and faculty members like assistant professor of marketing Troy Campbell.
“Troy had a lot to say about our brand,” Christopher recalled. “It was cool to bounce ideas off of him—how to market this, how to build this.”
And what advice would the brothers give to current Lundquist College students with startup ideas of their own?
“Start getting the ball rolling,” Benjamin said. “Do little things that push you toward your goals and milestones. If you have an idea that you believe is something you can capitalize on—something that’s really good for the community—go for it!”
And what about words of wisdom for anyone who’s never tried an escape room but has always wanted to?
“The door is not actually locked,” Christopher said. “It’s not that scary.”