Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!
“To be honest, I never thought I’d own a business. I had just returned from my marathon in Antarctica for my seven continents challenge, and I was deciding how I’d finally ‘grow up.’’’
Yes, you read that right; not only did Phil Cha run a marathon in Antarctica, but he has run a marathon on all seven continents! But his journey to that point started many years before. Growing up, Phil had a dream of going to the Olympics for Taekwondo. Devastatingly, those dreams seemed to disappear when he tore his ACL. “I was depressed. I felt useless, like the best years of my physical activity were behind me, even though I was only in my early 20s. While in my state of self pity, Nike launched their Nike RunTO 10k race on the Toronto islands. I decided that I would be stubborn and literally “Just Do It.” Ever since then, running long distances has been more about the mental battle than the physical one for me; a way to push myself to develop my mental calluses.”
Years later, Phil was in Seoul, Korea when Nike launched its Nike Human Race. Then and there, Phil decided that he was going to “run the world,” and made it his goal to run a marathon on every continent. And run them he did: in Punta Arenas, Chile; at the Great Wall of China; in the Dopey Challenge at Disney World, Florida; in Greece at the Athens Authentic Marathon; in Sydney, Australia; in Tanzania at the Kilimanjaro Marathon; and in Antarctica! When he returned home from this incredible challenge, he wasn’t sure what would be next. He was torn between going to medical school or trying out a 9-5 job. One day, while mulling over his options and vacillating between career trajectories, Phil attended a birthday party at an escape room. “I hated everything about it. I shared my thoughts with a friend and, long story short, he asked if I’d like to go into business with him. Six years later, here we are!”
Today, Phil is the owner of Riddle Room, a Yonge Street game café with escape rooms. Riddle Room has board games, video games at each table, it makes its own board games, and hosts multiple escape rooms. “There’s no cover to come to our place either. Just buy something and stay as long as you want.” The animal art on the matcha latte is a crowd favourite.
Phil may never have thought that he would own a business, but “today it feels like a home away from home. People have gotten engaged here. We’ve had celebrities come in. We’ve hosted charities like the WWF. We’ve had reality show dates filmed here. It’s been a wild ride!”
So Phil, how can the Toronto running community support you and Riddle Room, particularly during this challenging time?
“Please come by! Book an escape room at www.riddleroom.ca! They’re great for dates. Or come and get a latte and play some N64. We have some gift certificates too. Honestly, as an indoor entertainment facility that was forced to close for four and a half months, we need all the help we can get. Sharing this post, making a review on Google/Yelp, or Trip Advisor, and telling people about us all help. Thank you in advance!”
You can read more about Riddle Room’s experience through lockdown and with CECRA in a recent CBC article. You can also follow Phil and Riddle Room on Instagram.