The children of a coffee shop owner killed in an explosion this week in Durham are remembering Kong Lee as the “best dad we could have ever asked for.”
Diana and Raymond Lee posted on Instagram last night that Kaffeinate coffee shop, which had occupied the first floor of the now-destroyed building at 115 North Duke Street, was closing indefinitely. In the post, they thanked first responders who responded to a gas leak and explosion at the shop Wednesday morning, and customers who had supported the family business.
“The family we created at Kaffeinate made him so happy,” they wrote. “We watched your smiles give him strength and joy. Thank you. Above all, he valued family, and he did everything to give us the best life he could. That means he often worked 12-13 hour days doing jobs no one else wanted to do. He never complained because he never wanted us to worry. That was our dad.”
In addition to losing a man with the “biggest, purest heart out of anyone we know,” the family lost their sole source of income. Kaffeinate baristas are in need of work, they wrote.
“Kaffeinate is closed indefinitely. It always was and always will be for our dad,” they wrote. “We’ve been discussing it and hope one day to be able to rebuild and reopen and bring his memory back to life.”
Firefighters were called to North Duke Street at about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday in response to a gas leak and immediately began evacuating Kaffeinate. Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said earlier this week that eight to ten people who “would have also perished inside the building” were evacuated prior to the blast.
Firefighters instructed Lee – last seen in the doorway of the business – to leave as well, but he didn’t immediately heed to order and moments later the building collapsed. What sparked the explosion – which injured at least twenty-five people and damaged at least fifteen buildings – is still under investigation, though city officials have said a contractor installing fiber cables struck an underground gas line.
“The last we heard from our dad, he called us to tell us there was a gas leak outside and to let our staff and customers know we would be closed for the day,” the Lees wrote. “He was going to close up and make a sign to put on our door in case anybody came by later.”
The family asked anyone with memories of Lee to share them on Kaffeinate’s Instagram. The shared an online fundraiser to support the family.
In addition to 115 North Duke Street, 806 West Main Street – home to St. James Seafood – has been condemned, Zoldos said Thursday. Torreros, the former Triangle Brewing and a Duke office at 710 West Main Street do not have occupancy permits. Other fundraising sites have been set up to help families, businesses, and restaurant workers impacted by the explosion.
A celebration of the 150th anniversary of Durham’s founding will take place as planned on Saturday, but “will serve as a way for the community to be with one another in solidarity and commend the heroic actions of first responders,” according to Discover Durham.