Matt Khouri got a “C” on the business idea he proposed in his senior-year entrepreneurship class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Little did he know that years later that project — what’s become a rapidly growing shrimp boil business — would be his livelihood and the vehicle for the 28-year-old to give back to the university where he conceived the idea.
“It was a flawed business plan, to say the least,” said Khouri, who graduated from Liberty High School in 2008. “But I kind of decided I was going to do it anyway.”
Khouri knew he wanted to wear board shorts to work, not a business suit, he said, so he started Outer Banks Boil Co. at his apartment and then operated from other restaurants’ kitchens for about four years before opening a brick and mortar shop in Corolla, North Carolina, in 2016.
“Death, taxes and people going out to eat, that’s gonna happen everywhere,” the 2012 UNCW graduate said. “But when you go to these coastal communities for vacation, whether it’s in Ocean City or Carolina Beach or the Outer Banks, you pack so many people into these vacation homes and trying to take those people out to eat can be a real challenge for those groups.”
The business model is simple, albeit innovative: They bring traditional, low-country shrimp boils to packed vacation homes at three popular East Coast beaches.
Khouri’s boiling business picked up steam quickly.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, Khouri and his business partners — Ryan Miller, a 28-year-old Liberty High grad, and Will Jenkins, a 27-year-old Glenelg Country School and UNCW graduate — brought the boil to a brewery near their old stomping grounds.
They did it for brand awareness and for the institution that helped refine Khouri’s crustacean concept.
“Hurricane Florence was definitely a destructive force that really affected the Wilmington, North Carolina, area and all of the surrounding areas down there,” Khouri told the Times. “The kids that are at UNCW and the faculty, they were out of school for almost a month. There was millions and millions of dollars of damage and just really, really sad stuff that happened down there.”
According to The News and Observer, Florence caused $140 million in damage to the university, which plans to pay for repairs with insurance claims and state funds, among other initiatives. Enter the Campus Emergency Fund for student hurricane relief.
Miller and Jenkins, the chief operating officer and vice president, brainstormed the idea for a local event at Hysteria Brewing Co. in Columbia. The three are co-owners. Jenkins manages the Ocean City shop.
“Unlike Matt’s other stores, we opened a store versus working out of a kitchen or an apartment. So building brand awareness is a really big thing for us,” Miller explained. So he thought, “Why don’t we do an event; get family, friends and customer supporters; and just try to build awareness for what we’re doing, and build some momentum for the following season?”
It took Khouri little time to determine who would be the benefactors of the event, which featured on-site Low-Country cooking by Khouri and Jenkins. He even decided to match proceeds dollar-for-dollar.
“I think it’s really cool. ... Ryan and I being Carroll County guys, Will being a Howard County guy, to be able to put this event on back home near where we grew up,” Khouri said.
Delmarva’s close-to-home gathering sold nearly 150 tickets beforehand, so there were few tickets available at the door. The shrimp boil earned some $1,400. Khouri pitched in $1,600 for his and Jenkins’ alma mater.
“When you go into a school, that becomes your home when you’re there and you have this connection — even after you left — to the area, to the people, the university, all that stuff,” Khouri said. “That’s an area that’s still very near and dear to my heart. And again, it was such an important part of building this business, and to be able to open a store there [Carolina Beach] and now continue the growth of this organization into other areas and to be [employing] other UNCW grads.
“It’s really amazing, and it just feels really great to give back whatever we can.”