Local restaurant owner stuck 3,900 miles away in Morocco


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Omar’s Carriage House has a reputation for excellent dining. 

The restaurant was founded in 1998 by Omar Boukhriss after he worked at WAVY-TV from 1993 to 1996 in the accounting office.  He quickly found success

Today, Boukhriss is stuck in Morocco — 3,900 miles away.  He is in the Moroccan capital of Rabat in Northwest Africa.  10 On Your Side spoke to him on Facetime.

“Yesterday, the government started enforcing a new rule. You have to wear masks in public, and if you don’t you could go to jail for two to three months or you will have to pay a fine,” he said. 

His son Zaki is helping run the business with his sister Yasmine and General Manager Shaina Sandler Martin.  

Back at Omar’s on W. Bute Street in Norfolk,  Zaki spoke with us on the front porch.

“My sister and I didn’t want to get stuck in Morocco because we have online classes,  and WiFi in Morocco is not all that great service to be on Zoom, so we were kind of freaking out,” Zaki said. 

Zaki and his sister literally got the last flight out of Morocco on March 15 before the country was shut down, and Omar found that out on the way home after taking his children to the airport.

“Morocco just grounded all the planes and the borders are shut down, and no one is coming and no one is leaving.  I said what do you mean, you cannot leave the country?” he said. 

That was 24 days ago, and Omar remembers all the military trucks moving in as he was going back to join his wife.

“It was unreal.  I drove my car, and I see the military tanks in the streets, and you can see 15 or so, and I thought this is not real.  It can’t be real, but it was the reality of this thing we are now in,” he said. 

Omar hopes to get a flight out on Friday.

“I hope, I’ve been told we have seats, but going back to Norfolk is a mystery because I don’t know what I am going to find,” he said. 

Omar’s going to face business off 75 percent with most workers temporarily laid off, but the good news many of his customers are remaining loyal through take-out and delivery.

“We are grateful for the loyal customers, multiple people are here three or four times a week,” Zaki said. 

We hooked up Omar with Zaki on Facetime, but they already talk everyday.

“We talk about the menu, what we will run as the special. He’s been helping my general manager Shaina a lot,” Omar said of Zaki’s efforts to keep the business running. 

There is a fear during these tough times.

“I do have a fear of losing my business, it is always there, it doesn’t go away,” he said. 

Back in Norfolk, there’s also a lot of pride.   

“Like every father, he will tell his son ‘I am very proud of you’ and it is a joy I can’t express, to be honest with you.”  

We wanted to find out more about what Morocco is doing to deal with the pandemic coronavirus.  Omar went described his experience.

“You are constantly asked ‘where are you going, and why are you outside?’” he said. 

Curfews were also just implemented.

“It’s curfew at 6 p.m. … at 5:30 (p.m.) police drive down the streets with a loudspeaker telling people to go home.  If you are caught you are taken to jail, and they don’t play with that neither,” Omar added. 

There are exceptions, like getting money to go to the store and the pharmacy. 

“If you have to go to hospital or pharmacy or grocery store, those are the only things you can do, and you need a signed permission which is stamped by an official from the government, and you need it to go to your job,” Omar added. 

Omar gives Morocco with a population of 36 million high grades for saving lives. About 1,150 people have coronavirus and 83 have died. That is a death rate just over 7 percent.  That is compared to the United States of 3.22 percent and Virginia at 2.06 percent on the morning of Wednesday, April 8. 

 Omar also gives high marks to Morocco for dealing with this tragedy,  

“For them what they did is amazing with the leadership of the king, and the government, and it has saved a lot of lives, and showed the country what the country is cable of doing,” he said. 

Omar hopes to get a flight out from Morocco Friday, but that is not a certainty.  In the meantime family and General Manager Shaina Sandler Martin continue operating Omar’s Carriage House.  To-go orders and delivery are available for dinner 4-8 p.m. 

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