Family, friends, strangers say farewell to coffee shop owner killed in Durham explosion

North Carolina
Kong Yung Lee

Family, friends, and strangers who have become family said farewell Wednesday to a Durham coffee shop owner who died four weeks earlier in a gas line explosion.

Kong Yung Lee’s funeral at New Horizon Church in Durham celebrated the life and legacy of the owner of Kaffeinate on Duke Street. A blast beneath the building on April 10 killed Lee and also fatally injured Dominion Energy employee Jay Rambeaut, who died after two weeks in intensive care.

Lee’s daughter Diana reflected on her father’s love for his family and for others, as her younger brother Raymond stood by her side.

“My dad’s story is really the story of the American Dream,” Lee said. “He used to tell us that he didn’t feel quite like he belonged in America, but he also didn’t feel like he belonged in Korea, which is a fact for many one-and-a-half generation immigrant Americans like him.

“Even I feel that, too, being his child, and I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been for him growing up, but the American Dream is fighting through that day after day so your kids can grow up with a better life.”

Kong Lee immigrated to the United States in 1972, when he was 14 years old. He lived first in New York before making North Carolina home. Lee and his wife worked 12 hour days at a dry cleaning business for many years, which Diana said provided for her and Raymond to take music lessons and play sports and participate in other after-school activities.

When the laundry business closed, Lee worked as a package handler for Amazon, a print and copy associate at Office Depot, and delivered pizzas, which he did not mention to his children for years out of concern they might fear for his safety.

“My brother and I helped him open Kaffeinate to give him a break, to give him a place where he wasn’t burned or covered in sweat or hurting or his shoulders or breaking his back,” Diana Lee said.

“My dad opened Kaffeinate to fulfill a dream he always had of being able to serve people and bring them a smile with their coffee or their waffle or their cut-up fruit,” she said.

“He struggled with where he belonged but he didn’t want anyone else to feel that way. He wanted to create somewhere everyone belonged and felt safe and comfortable and accepted, and the beauty of reading and hearing all of your comments is that my dad, he succeeded.”

The Lee family invited the community to attend Kong’s funeral. A post on the Kaffeinate Instagram page said We hope you will join us so our dad can smile down and see how large his family has grown.

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