Business is good for Middletown entrepreneurApr 01, 2019 12:36PM ● By J. Chambless
At the Novus grand opening, Rishen Patel (holding son Aarav) with his wife, Heeral, cuts the ribbon.
By Drewe Phinny
What’s the common element among these three Middletown businesses -- Manhattan Bagel, Novus Escape Room, and Holiday Inn Express and Suites? Rishen Patel.
He’s the 34-year-old businessman who started all three enterprises, and he continues to build strong, successful, commercial ventures that capture the fancy of local residents.
Born in England and raised in Tanzania, Patel made his first visit to the United States in 2010. He and his family ran a gas station in Wilmington. In 2013, he became a silent partner at a Middletown bagel shop, where he invested a small amount of money.
“We thought it would go well, but it didn’t,” he said. “We lost a lot of money; it wasn’t working out. My partner couldn’t manage it, so my wife, Heeral, and I came in and we didn’t even know what a bagel was. The first two years, we worked from 3 a.m. to closing.”
It was especially discouraging for the recently married couple to work seven days for a failing business. “Every month, we’d lose money,” Patel said. “And eventually, we had drained all our savings. At that point, we figured, that’s it.”
But, in the end, perseverance paid off. “We kept on pushing through, and the schools really helped us with catering,” he said. “Things improved, and since we got settled, we won rookie-of-the-year from the franchise, we won the highest brand standards, highest growth award and we’re a million-dollar store right now.”
Always focused on good customer service, Patel concentrated on knowing people by name and making sure the food was good and served in a timely manner. Manhattan Bagel, on Main Street, is also rated number-one in the franchise for cleanliness.
Somehow, along with bagels and escape rooms, Patel and his Uncle, Bakulesh, have managed to open a hotel, too. The 93-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites is scheduled to be open in April. “My uncle owns five hotels in Salisbury, Md., so he has the experience. He’s the reason I’m taking that first step,” Patel said. The hotel will employ 30 to 40 people.
Patel is quick to share the credit with family, friends and the general community. “The town council is very business-friendly here,” he said. “They’re very easy to discuss things with.” It’s a natural match for the other Patel operations. “We’re partnering with sports complexes and different sports teams to stay with us at the hotel,” he said. “So those are the people who, in the evenings, have nothing to do, so we can cross-market and get them into the escape room. We have a lot of groups coming on from May onwards, and we book ‘Stay and Play’ packages where they stay with us and come play at Novus.”
“There’s not too much entertainment in Middletown,” Patel said. “There’s the bowling alley, a movie theater and that’s pretty much it. This [Novus] is perfect. All of our staff is high school kids and they are phenomenal. They do a great job. They bring their friends in, and it’s great.”
Students and teachers alike can use Novus to take on challenges in a fun atmosphere. Patel pointed out a perfect example. “We had Positive Outcomes Charter School from Camden,” he said. “They brought in 32 teachers.” They took over several rooms and had a great time trying to figure out the mysteries and puzzles. “They left the hardest room with ten minutes to spare,” Patel said. At that point, only one other group had actually come out of the Tesla room successfully.
Chances are those teachers from Camden have benefitted from team building, which is a byproduct of Novus’ appeal. “Team building is something every industry, company and business that has employees requires,” Patel said. “It’s crucial everyone works together and gets along. We have a great way to do that with a one-hour event where they all work together to solve puzzles find clues and win.”
Novus, founded in Malaysia in 2014, is not a traditional escape room with locks and keys. For one thing, it’s all computerized.
“We have put a lot of effort into the technology. It’s really different from other rooms,” Patel said. “We’re the first character-based escape room in the world.”
Some players breeze through extremely quickly; others take the full hour, and there are some who never solve it. Of course, for those who are stumped, more clues and extra hints are available. The game master (a Novus employee) is available any time. Doors are never locked, so anyone who wants to leave is able to do so immediately. Each person who enters a room has a special power (Time Bender, Oracle, Scholar, Assassin, Healer, Light Bringer, Gemini and Lock Master). As the group (from two to eight people) starts to navigate the room, a computer displays the story and objective for all to read. The character known as Oracle sets the pace. His or her job is to memorize important facts in a book within about one minute. The book has pictures that tell the story. The Oracle communicates significant clues to the others, and they tackle the puzzles to solve that room’s particular mystery. The goal is to break out within 60 minutes, although there are some ways to have that time extended.
Patel is especially proud of Novus’ family appeal. “We’ve seen grandparents, parents and children all come as one big family,” he said. “They get in the room and solve different things … it’s a great time to bond.”
There are five themed rooms that vary in difficulty. Somewhere in the middle is Dreadnought, The Ark of Tomorrow. Patel described the challenge: “You’ve been stuck on a ship for two decades and your goal is to find land. So you play the whole game in search of land.” Players enter through one door, solve the puzzles, find clues, get into different areas and escape through another door.
Care to take on the Testament of Tesla? Better make sure your skills are sharp. The difficulty level is eight points out of ten. At one point, 20 people had tried Tesla, and only two escaped.
Perhaps you’re looking to start with something easier? Project Fallout is rated three out of ten. Novus recommends starting small and working your way up to the more difficult ones. Walk-ins are welcome, but preregistering online is suggested.
Novus is working with local law enforcement on a special project. “They do a lot of outreach with different events where they get together with the folks to show they are human and part of the community,” Patel said. “One day people will have the option of having a special event with a police officer joining them in the room. So they can solve the mystery together. He or she can work with them and give a different perspective.”
For all his business ventures, Patel has stuck to one basic three-part mantra that has served him and his family well. “We understood very early on that you need three good things to succeed -- A great product, a lot of hard work, and good customer service,” he said. “If you have those three things, you can succeed.”
Novus Escape Room
727 N. Broad St., Middletown