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'The biggest, purest heart': Family remembers Kaffeinate owner Kong Lee

Street view of Kaffeinate coffee shop prior to last week's incident | Courtesy of Google
Street view of Kaffeinate coffee shop prior to last week's incident | Courtesy of Google

Kong Lee, the 61-year-old owner of the popular coffee shop Kaffeinate, died in the explosion that destroyed his shop last Wednesday.

Lee opened Kaffeinate in 2017 with his two children. In a Facebook post, his children Diana and Raymond Lee described their father’s dedication to serving the Durham community. 

“He had the biggest, purest heart out of anyone we know. He always wanted a cafe because he loved to serve people, and we were finally able to build him one,” the post reads. “He loved being able to bring people something that would make them smile. The family we created at Kaffeinate made him so happy. We watched your smiles give him strength and joy.” 

The post notes that Lee valued family, often working 12 to 13 hour days "doing jobs no one else wanted to do," but never complaining.

Kaffeinate will be "indefinitely closed," according to the post. Lee’s children wrote that the shop was built for their dad but added that they have “been discussing it and hope one day to be able to rebuild and reopen and bring his memory back to life.”

According to Kaffeinate's website, the Lee family has been in North Carolina since 1993, and the state became "the embodiment of the word 'home'" for them.

In the short time it had been open, Kaffeinate had already emerged as a popular spot for Duke students and Durham residents. Kaffeinate’s latest Facebook post has amassed more than 1,900 comments as of Sunday, with expressions of love and support from both those who were regulars at Kaffeinate and those who had never been.

"A lot of this still seems unreal, including the outpouring of love and support from our community," the Facebook post reads. "We lost the best dad we could have ever asked for."

At the time of his death, Lee was fully supporting his elderly mother who lives with the Lee family in Raleigh. Donations are being accepted and will be used to care for Lee’s mother, pay for funeral expenses and more. Between three GoFundMe campaigns, community members have raised more than $150,000 as of Sunday night.