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Friday, May 24, 2024

Oak Island to get a taste of Outer Banks with new seafood boil company

Oak Island will have Outer Banks Boil Company opening in the two-year-old Public Shopping Complex at 5003 E Oak Island Dr. It’s slated for a May opening if everything goes according to plan with the unit’s upfit. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — A UNCW graduate who has been operating a catering and takeout boil company for more than a decade is bringing his concept full circle near the Port City area.

An Outer Banks Boil Company location is opening in the Publix Shopping Complex at 5003 E Oak Island Drive. It’s slated for a May launch if everything goes according to plan with the Oak Island location’s upfit.

READ MORE: Fresh seafood, frozen drinks: Restaurant industry vets open Sandspur in CB this month

Founder and CEO Matt Khouri started the company as a side gig after college. A graduate from UNCW’s Cameron School of Business, he obtained the LLC while attending the university. He even pitched the business model to a panelist of academics as part of a senior project, some of whom didn’t take to it. 

“As any irresponsible college senior might, I waited till the last week of the semester to start the project,” Khouri said. “So it was probably more my fault than anything.”

Yet, OBBC was a bit ahead of the “personal chef, at-home catering” trend Khouri said has gained steam over the last few years due to people gathering more at home because of Covid.

After Khouri graduated UNCW in spring 2012, he moved to the Outer Banks to start his side hustle while holding down a bevy of jobs — teaching surf lessons, bartending, making pizza, working in construction. He prepared the seafood boil caterings out of his apartment before moving into restaurant kitchens as the business grew in the first few years.

What started that fall with 10 caterings ballooned to more than 200 by 2015, he said. “So at that point, I was like, ‘This is working — I can actually make this a career.”

In 2016 he decided to scale his first brick and mortar in Corolla, North Carolina, along the northern Outer Banks. He also decided he would have to do more than just caterings and added a takeout component so people could pick up the assembled pots, uncooked, to prepare at their beach houses. 

It’s something he had fond memories of in his youth with his own family while vacationing in the Outer Banks. Multiple families would come together and rent a house for two weeks. Rather than endure the headache of finding reservations — and dealing with rambunctious young boys at packed restaurants — they would congregate and cook. 

“The boil was always my favorite,” Khouri said. “We would bring the pot and burner we used for our deep-fried turkey at Thanksgiving and throw all the shrimp, corn, crab and potatoes together. And we had sawhorses and a sheet of plywood as the table, covered in a bunch of newspaper, and just kind of dumped it all out. It was fun, it was social.” 

OBBC founder and CEO Matt Khouri first launched the company as a side gig after college in 2012 and has grown the operation to 10 stores in five states. (Courtesy photo)

Since opening his first storefront in 2015, OBBC has grown into 10 stores in five states. It goes through roughly 50,000 pounds of shrimp a year, Khouri said, and sends out one of its specialty items, cornbread muffins, in droves. 

“It was our most popular item last year,” Oak Island general manager Josh Olvey said. “We sold over 65,000.” 

Olvey began working with the boil company in 2020 after his job as a licensed home inspector took a dive due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Olvey lived with his wife in Kill Devils Hills and met Khouri through mutual friends. He began doing boils to supplement his income and by last summer oversaw roughly 200 caterings. 

OBBC offers ready-to-cook pots stuffed with jumbo shrimp, andouille sausage, corn, and red bliss potatoes, each packed with the special-blend seasoning created by J.O Spice Company in Maryland. Add-ons include snow crab, lobster tails, clams, mussels and scallops. 

The sausage comes from Crescent City Meat Company out of Metairie, Louisiana. OBBC also has its own pilsner, Boil Beer, brewed by Big Ugly Brewing in Chesapeake, Virginia, which customers can choose to add another flavor profile. Khouri’s cocktail sauce comes with every order — jars of it are also sold separately. 

“It’s still the same recipe from when I was operating out of my apartment,” he said. “Besides the fresh horseradish and lemon, the secret ingredient is a certain hot sauce to give it an extra kick.”

The pots can be ordered for diners to cook at home — complete with instructions, starting with boiling the potatoes but then layering everything else to steam so each ingredient maintains its individual taste.

For those who aren’t seafood-eaters, the company also provides barbecue, procured from Greensboro vendor Brookwood Farms.  

“We also work with local fishermen and farmers in each market,” Khouri said. 

OBBC has three operations along the North Carolina coast, with two more coming in the next few months. Khouri said he has been wanting to open in Oak Island for two years. The other will be in Emerald Isle and yet another OBBC will launch by spring in St. Augustine, Florida. 

Khouri began expanding the footprint in Carolina Beach in 2017, but he eventually divested from that operation. Originally, he had the idea to name the companies after cities they operated in; his third was Delmar Boil Company in Maryland.

For brand consistency, Khouri chose to go back to the original moniker. The Maryland store is the only remaining in the portfolio with a different name.

“We’ve talked about maybe rebranding it, but they built a good following up there, so we’re just letting it run,” he said.

Five of the 10 restaurants are franchises — though, moving forward Khouri said he will only do corporate-owned operations. 

He brings on people who have a vested interest in moving up in the company, training them on the brand, hosting caterings and overseeing takeout, but most importantly embedding in the culture. 

“Our employees are invaluable — part of a family,” Khouri said. “The whole idea is to empower young guys and girls and whomever that comes into our system to go open a location and have it be successful.”

He sets benchmarks for the general managers to meet sales goals and bonuses. If the profitability is there, they could have the option to buy shares in the operation.

“Ownership in a location would be an absolute dream,” Olvey said.

OBBC has seen most success in beach towns. Moving to Oak Island from the Outer Banks was a no-brainer for Olvey. His wife, a nurse, secured a position with Novant Health.

“We looked at several different beaches nearby and decided that Oak Island and the Southport area was a really good fit,” he said, mainly because of the “family vibe” but also logistics.

Part of the company model is to be accessible, in places where there is more “horizontal growth over vertical,” Olvey added. A town with more vacation homes means kitchens to cook in and more space — driveways, pools and patios. 

“It’s very hard to do that in a hotel parking lot,” he said. “Or in rooms with maybe two or three people — you’re getting six to eight people in a house.” 

Khouri said being mobile and versatile has been the key to the business’ success — featured in Forbes and Entrepreneur magazines. In Corolla, OBBC is doing 20 caterings a night and sending 70 pots out the door during the height of tourist season.

“We don’t have the kind of the overhead or build-out costs that go into a sit-down restaurant,” he said, adding it allows for the operation’s higher profit margin. “We don’t have cooking equipment in the shop — no fryers or stoves. Since it’s takeout, you pick up the pot, take it home and follow the instructions. It’s super easy.”

But for parties of 10 or more, they suggest catering, where boilers set up on site, employees cook everything and handle the cleanup after. They’ll offer this from Sunset Beach to Bald Head Island in Brunswick County.

Interacting with others during the boil is part of the appeal for Olvey. He enjoys celebrating milestones, such as anniversaries, birthdays and graduations, and generally watching families engage during vacation.

“I’m a family man, and some of the best experiences I’ve had is when grandma or Aunt Susie comes up and gives me a side hug and just whispers, ‘You know, Josh, I just want to let you know, this is the only meal that I’ve been able to get my family all around the table for all week long,’” he said.

Khouri agrees. Being included in summertime vacations with some of the same people in the Corolla area for years has been rewarding. And he never tires of hosting boils, despite the brand’s expansion, which has him wearing more hats nowadays.

“I’ve watched their kids grow up,” Khouri said of some of the families. “When I show up to the door, they’re like ‘Uncle Matt!’ — I love it. It’s part of our mission: We don’t make meals, we make memories.”

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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