The Founder Of Harlem’s Black-Owned Escape Room On Stepping Out On Faith And The Business Of Fun
Regina Fleming

After spending more than two decades in the financial industry, Michele Ware decided to try something new. She opened the Harlem-based escape room venue, Hoodwinked, which draws groups from all over NYC metro in for a little mystery-solving fun. Business was thriving until 2016, when the business had to close its doors due to a devastating fire next door. Now Ware has rebuilt her business and bounced back with a boom and she’s sharing her journey and the lessons she has learned along the way.

Full Name: Michele Ware 

Title/Company: Owner, Hoodwinked

Age: 50s

Social Media: @hoodwinkedescape 

Hometown/Location: Harlem, New York

Transitioning Into Entrepreneurship: In February of 2015, I made the decision to take that leap of faith and leave my job. I was a controller of a global non-profit organization and I worked in accounting and finance for 25 years. I’ve had other business ideas in the past but this idea was the one that made me want to give up everything and take that leap of faith.

Rebuilding After Devastation: I feel like the recovery started while the fire was going on. Even though the fire wasn’t in our location, we literally started recovering immediately. We went to a Spanish restaurant right across the street and started getting on the phone with our customers. The amazing thing to me that sends me chills is that over the week, we were getting emails from customers. I also had a GoFundMe account because not all of my expenses were covered with my insurance and the people that funded the most were our customers. That made me realize that I’m making a really great impact in the community.

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Advice For Black Women Who Aspire To Be Business Owners: Listen to yourself. I feel like a lot of us want to do something different but we’re afraid to take that leap of faith or think that economically it’s not doable. Also, spend some quiet time and listen to your instincts, which will tell you when the time is right to just go for it. 

What Exactly Is Hoodwinked Escape? An escape room where you have to use your wit, critical thinking skills and intellect to try and solve mysterious puzzles and clues and work through some gadgets in order to escape out of a locked room in 60 minutes [or less].

Why You Should Try It Out: It’s a place where friends and families can bond. It’s where companies come to team build and bond outside of the office. One of the key takeaways for a lot of companies that come to Hoodwinked is that they come out with a greater sense of respect for each other’s differences. 

Standing Out From The Rest: One thing that really sets us apart from others is that we have a genuine care for our customers. We make them feel welcome and at home here. It’s not just a business to get them in and out; we really try to provide them with superior customer service that’s personalized. 

The True Lesson From The Escape Room: Whether they escape the room in less than an hour or get what we call ‘Hoodwinked,’ I think everyone that leaves here gets a sense of confidence and empowerment.

Relaxing And Managing Stress: Yoga, Cooking and Traveling 

Her superpower: I’m an effective multi-tasker. 

Her Theme Song: Strength, Courage & Wisdom by India Arie