One North Carolina businessman is turning lemons into lemonade.
Omar Khouri, who has run an IT company since 2006, told FOX Business he collected around $120,000 from settlements with telemarketers over the past two years. Now, he's putting it toward opening a cocktail bar named The Wrong Number.
"I'm just going to try to have some fun with it," the Winston-Salem resident said. "I'm calling the bar The Wrong Number because they called the wrong number when they called me."
Omar Khouri takes the money he earned through settlements with telemarketers to open his own bar. (Kenny Morganelli)
Opening up a bar was never his intention. In fact, he admitted it was nothing but a thought in the back of his mind because it seemed too out of reach.
That changed in 2020. When Khouri was stuck at home during the pandemic, he recalled getting overrun with telemarketer calls even though he was on the National Do Not Call Registry. Sometimes it was about 20 to 30 a calls per day, he said.
Normally, he would ignore the calls. But, out of boredom, he tried a different strategy.
"I started answering them … answering their questions and usually making up the answers just enough to make them continue on," he said. "They would finally tell me who they are and then, at that point, I would look them up."
Khouri says he would then follow up with a letter demanding $10,000 or $15,000 from them in order "to avoid filing a lawsuit."
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Most times he gets a call back from the company, and they settle on a figure, "usually between $7,500 and $10,000," he continued.
He has already settled with 30 different telemarketers over the past two years, earning him the hefty $120,000 figure.
But even the demand letters don't always stop them from calling.
"When I first started sending these letters, I never expected to actually get … tens of thousands of dollars from them," Khouri said. "I figured … somebody out there would realize that, ‘Hey, calling this number is expensive’ and stop calling it."
For a while after a settlement, the calls would drop off.
A shot outside what will soon be The Wrong Number tavern. (Omar Khouri)
"I might get one or two calls a day or sometimes nothing. And then, after a few more weeks, it just went back up to the higher volume of calls again," he said.
Khouri said he started to use the money to help his friends in need, charities and to put himself through graduate school.
Recently, though, a business owner who'd been running a bar in Winston-Salem for ten years decided to retire, opening up an opportunity Khouri couldn't turn down.
He just closed the deal on the bar Monday and has already begun renovations for a grand opening around Halloween.
When it does open, he plans to name all the drinks after the various telemarketer schemes.
"So you can come in and order the car warranty or the debt relief or the student loan," he said.