Durham coffee shop owner killed in blast remembered at vigil as ‘pillar of the community’

April 17, 2019

A sign read “We will miss you,” and the message was felt by those who attended a customer organized vigil to honor the Durham coffee shop owner killed in a downtown explosion.

“It’s really hard to describe. When it was happening, we did smell gas and we did evacuate, but the last thing on our mind was that it was going to explode,” Rich Bond said.

It’s been almost a week since a gas leak caused an explosion that shook Durham. Some, like Bond, made it out in time. One man, Kong Lee, did not.

Lee, 61, was the only person killed in the explosion that injured more than a dozen others. Family members said he was preparing to close the shop because of the gas leak when the explosion occurred.

On Tuesday night, the community remembered Lee as a father, friend and owner of Kaffienate, the community’s beloved coffee shop.

“We were all part of the same building. He was a very good guy and he cared about his beautiful business. He cared about his community and that’s really probably why he was in the building to begin with, because he cared about all that,” Bond said.

For others at the vigil, Lee was their first introduction to Durham. Lee was one of the first people Tai Renwei Chung met when he moved to the Bull City.

“I lost my father five years ago and, instantly, he felt like a father figure to me,” Chung said.

The void Lee left behind could be felt among the candlelight along Morgan Street Tuesday night.

“In times of a lot of change, he was a constant, so to see something that was such a pillar of the community go down, I think it just feels so real and raw still trying to deal with it,” Bond said.

The Lee family said they’re grieving in private, but community members want them to know they are loved and supported.

In a social media post last week, Lee’s family said that Kaffienate will remain closed indefinitely.