What started as answering telemarketing phone calls turned into becoming a bar owner.
Like many people at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Omar Khouri was stuck at his Winston Salem, North Carolina, home. During that time, he received several telemarketing phone calls and decided to answer them, asking questions to find out who the people and companies behind the calls were.
The process led him to make over $100,000 in settlement money and he's now using that money to open a bar called The Wrong Number.
“I didn’t really set out to start doing this. It was just, 'Hey, I’m sitting at home and this is happening and let’s see if something comes of it,'” Khouri told TODAY via phone. “Originally it was, 'Let’s write this letter and then that’ll be the only way to get them to stop' because my number is on the Do Not Call list. And even if you ask them to stop calling you, they still keep calling. They just change the caller ID of where they’re calling from.”
He added, “I kind of got the idea that, well, if I can get them to pay for the call, well then they’re gonna stop calling me because it’s gonna get too expensive to call.”
Khouri has owned his own IT company since 2006. He said that business slowed down for him during the pandemic and “had free time” to follow through with reaching out to the telemarketers who had initially contacted him.
He received his first settlement paycheck “a couple months into the pandemic” and believes he’s had between 30 to 40 settlements since then. Khouri stated that while the process is tedious and you have to be patient, anyone can do it. One must simply “check your state laws (on telemarketers),” he said.
With the money, Khouri purchased dive bar Bull’s Tavern in Winston-Salem, when the owner put it up for sale after 10 years.
“I’ve never worked in the service industry, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do is have a bar or a restaurant, and this opportunity became available,” he said, adding that the paperwork was completed on Sept. 12.
Khouri’s plan is to take over the bar, which was known for hosting live music multiple times a week, and turn it into a craft cocktail bar where drinks are named after telemarketing schemes.
“We’ll have a drink that’s the ‘Car Warranty,’ another one that’s ‘Debt Relief,’ one called ‘Student Loans,’” he said. “Whatever the name of the scam is.”
At The Wrong Number, tipping will also be optional. Growing up in the Middle East, Khouri didn’t grow up with the tipping culture in the U.S and wanted to change the way it is seen with his bar. He said his staff is “on board” with the decision, as they will get a “proper living wage.”
“Tipping is still going to be available, but it is going to be known that no one is going to be encouraged or forced to tip,” he said, adding that he's also working with local bartenders and artists to revamp the space. He hopes to have the bar open by mid-October and fully open by Halloween.
Khouri, meanwhile, stated that reaching out to telemarketing companies is not a side gig or something he puts all his energies into.
“My priority is my main business, which is my IT company and taking care of my clients,” he said. “And if I’m busy doing that, I’m not gonna answer these calls, or I’ll answer and hang up. But if I’m sitting at home and watching TV, not really doing anything, I’ll still pick up the call and still do what I can with it.”
“If the call stuff ended tomorrow, I’d be happy. I’m not missing out on anything,” he said. “I happen to get a bunch of money from it and I’ve used the money for things I needed to do during the pandemic when I wasn’t getting paid by my regular clients. That was a big help just to make sure that my bills got paid. But at the same time, I also used that money to help my friends if they needed something.”
And buy a bar.