Popular local brewery Night Shift Brewing — which has breweries and taprooms in Everett and Boston, as well as two seasonal beer gardens in Boston and a third on the way in Somerville — has expanded again. This time, it’s part of Level99, a giant playground of escape room-like challenges at the Natick Mall.
The sprawling venue, located in the former Sears space, fills 48,000 square feet with a Night Shift taproom and beer hall, several private dining spaces, and over 40 rooms that hold over 100 physical and mental challenges with various themes. Geared at groups of adults, the challenges include everything from swinging on ropes over a floor of (LED) lava to navigating through laser beams to steal a jewel at a museum.
Night Shift’s recent partnership with Little Branch Hospitality — folks from Branch Line, Shy Bird, and Eastern Standard (RIP), including restaurateur Andrew Holden and chef Nemo Bolin — continues from Night Shift’s Boston location to this one, which means more Detroit-style pizza. The taproom, which seats nearly 100, has full table service, while the 140-seat beer hall has counter service. They share a menu of apps, salads, sandwiches, the aforementioned pizza, and such; think Nashville hot chicken sandwiches, a burrata and prosciutto salad, gochujang chicken wings, and more. The taproom also has a few entrees, such as coffee rubbed short rib and miso glazed salmon.
Level99 comes from CEO Matt DuPlessie, an engineer who has worked on projects with Disney and Universal Studios and founded 5 Wits, escape room-style venues with locations in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. DuPlessie’s design and production company Box Fort is behind the challenge rooms at Level99.
DuPlessie is considering Level99 Natick the flagship location and has enlisted Panera founder and former CEO Ron Shaich as partner in an apparent bid for world domination, or at least a bit of expansion. Aside from his history with Panera, Shaich has become a familiar name in the local restaurant scene in recent years: Through his investment group, Act III Holdings, he’s been driving expansion of Boston-area restaurant chains such as Tatte and Life Alive.
Level99’s online ticketing system isn’t up and running yet; customers can purchase tickets onsite ($30 for two hours, $40 for four hours, and $50 for all-day access; group pricing is available). Night Shift is accepting reservations via OpenTable.
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The recipe for a new 48,000-square-foot entertainment space includes scenes from the Legends of the Hidden Temple, pints of Night Shift Brewing, world-class cuisine all mixed into one spot from the mind of an MIT and Harvard Business School graduate who has engineered projects with Disney and Universal Studios.
Level99, created by CEO Mat DuPlessie, opened on Monday in Natick.
DuPlessie is known for founding the 5 Wits Companies, which has 21 attractions in four states, including a location at Patriot Place in Foxborough, but none quite compare to Level99.
The newest venue in the space formerly occupied by Sears holds 43 rooms for custom-built challenges that range from basic mazes to LED-light floors mimicking lava and Aztec temples that look straight out of the former Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple.
However, this nearly 50,000 square foot space is geared more toward adults with a 92-seat Night Shift taproom and a 140-seat beer hall.
“It’s two individually elevated concepts under one roof,” DuPlessie said. “One minute you’re in an Aztec temple and the next minute you’re spinning around inside a giant combination lock. It puts you in the present moment with your friends and gives you a story to tell.”
Originally, DuPlessie scribbled down about 2,000 challenges when he first thought of the idea. It’s since been whittled down to the top 100.
The rooms feature different challenges with an array of both physical and mental themes. Visitors can swing across ropes, run across a moving plank of a pirate ship or contort their body to avoid laser beams in a room to steal a jewel.
Other challenges force participants to avoid fireballs shot from the mouth of a dragon, cracking a giant combination lock and training to become a ninja samurai.
The large space allows 450 players to participate at once throughout the 43 game rooms.
“I dreamt it one night, five years ago,” said DuPlessie. I said, ‘This is good, let’s build it.’”
Away from the games, Level99 features 60 Night Shift Brewing taps along with 20 more craft beers.
The iconic Night Shift owl can be seen from the entrance and throughout the space.
“Level99 chose Night Shift as its brewer because we share the same relentless pursuit of quality,” Night Shift Brewing Co-Founder Michael Oxton said. “Everyone involved in this collaboration is working to ‘craft better’ in their own way.”
In addition to the taproom and beer garden, it also holds a 50-seat function room and a 24-seat private dining room.
The kitchen will be operated by the same people that run Branch Line, Shy Bird and Eastern Standard in the Boston area.
“What makes Level99 so compelling is the stand-alone strength of each individual element of the concept,” Panera Bread Founder and longtime CEO Ron Shaich said. “You can come for the challenges, and stay for the food and beverage. Or you can come for the food and beverage, and stay for the challenges.”
Shaich, launched Act III Holdings, which helps companies mature into national brands.
Level99 is the first startup for Act III.
“Level99 Natick is the flagship location,” DuPlessie said. “We’re taking three businesses at the top of their game, putting them together to build something new and seeing what happens.”
Interactive gaming business plans June opening at the Natick Mall
NATICK — An entertainment business whose financial backers include the founder of Panera Bread and Au Bon Pain is expected to open next month inside the Natick Mall.
Ron Shaich is a co-partner of Level 99, an interactive gaming concept that will open its first location in Natick. It will occupy 48,000 square feet on the second floor of the former Sears store.
Food and beverages, including alcohol, will be served.
More:New game in town
Last month, the Select Board unanimously approved alcohol, food and entertainment licenses, the final major hurdles to bring the business to the mall.
“I can’t wait to visit you, and see this cool concept,” said board Chairwoman Karen Adelman-Foster.
About $11 million was invested in the Natick location, said Matt DuPlessie, a co-partner who is founder of The 5 Wits Companies. That business has seven locations, including one at Patriot Place in Foxborough.
DuPlessie’s other business — Box Fort in Norwood — developed the entertainment concepts for Level 99.
Customers will experience 43 separate rooms that offer a variety of games that cater to groups of two to six players. There are also seven “arena” rooms for player-versus-player competition.
A total of 300 seats are in four areas: taproom and kitchen; beer hall; private dining room; and function room.
Level 99 must return to the board in December for annual renewal of its liquor license. That fact allayed concerns by the board that Level 99 staff may have a challenge monitoring customers who buy beer and wine on-premises as they move through 43 separate rooms.
DuPlessie's team stressed several factors will prevent over-consumption of alcohol — staff are trained to serve and monitor customers; each room offers a 1- to 3-minute experience so customers don’t have time to linger; and all minors are required to have an adult chaperone who is at least 25 years old.
There are also closed-circuit cameras throughout, which can be shared with law enforcement, if needed.
Henry Schwan is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymetrowest. He can be reached at [email protected] or 508-626-3964.
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