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Serving behind the scenes: Businesses do their part to help after storm

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Carolyn Lee, left, and her husband Don Lee, owners of Lee's Country Kitchen, talk about weathering hurricanes and other storms at Lee's Country Kitchen.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Monday, September 17, 2018

Like a lot of folks in eastern North Carolina, Don and Carolyn Lee didn't get much sleep as they braced for Hurricane Florence to make landfall.

But the Lees weren't pacing the floor in the early morning hours of Sept. 14. They were making biscuits.

Lee's Country Kitchen was among about a dozen local restaurants that stayed open to feed emergency responders and utility workers. The Lees, along about half a dozen employees, were at work by 2:30 a.m. Friday to fill an order for 300 biscuits for Greenville Utilities Commission.

“We have been doing this ever since we've been in business here,” Don Lee said Saturday. “We've fed law enforcement during floods, emergency workers. It's just something we've done.”

The Lees, married more than 50 years, have been in business since 1983. After losing their first location to a fire, they opened on Old Creek Road in 1996.

“The day we opened was when (Hurricane) Bertha came through,” Lee said. “A few weeks later, we had Fran.”

The business has never closed during a hurricane. The Lees had to use a generator to keep cooking following Hurricane Floyd, and Don Lee had to hitch a ride on a tractor trailer to get across the floodwaters of the Tar River to keep his restaurant and convenience store from running out of food.

For the Lees, keeping the doors open is like a civic duty. Carolyn served on the Pactolus Rescue Squad for more than a decade. Their son is in law enforcement.

“He has to get out and go on the roads,” Carolyn said. “They have to be out there. They have nowhere to eat.”

Shannon Jones, who has worked with the Lees for 15 years, said that by Saturday some of those workers had stopped by Lee's Country Kitchen to thank the Lees for staying open during the storm.

“They're our regular customers, a lot of them are,” she said. “Some of them are in this community, too.”

After the restaurant finished preparing breakfast for GUC employees and other linemen working in the area, the Lees closed the doors, went home to rest and then returned to make 300 dinners of hamburger steak, pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans for the same crew.

“They have to have food to do their job,” Don said. “They're looking after us. We can do a little bit to look after them.”

Lee's was not the only business that spent the weekend catering to people dealing with Hurricane Florence. Sparky's Snowballs traveled the county, offering free snowballs to people at emergency shelters.

It is not the first time that Sparky's, which has been in business for more than 20 years, has responded this way.

Jamie O'Neal, who owns the business with her husband, Robert, said Sparky's has been part of tornado relief efforts in Greene and Beaufort counties as well.

“When (Hurricane) Matthew came, we went around to wherever the shelters were,” she said. “(People were) very thankful. A lot of people that are in the shelter, they don't have any idea what's left at home.”

After visiting Pitt County emergency shelters on Saturday, Sparky's stopped at fire and rescue departments in Ayden and Grifton to offer free treats to workers. On Sunday, the O'Neals sent a trailer to Beaufort County to serve residents at a shelter at Washington High School.

“We couldn't do but so much for the community, and we did have this business,” Jamie O'Neal said. “There were so many people out there trying to work. We just saw it as an opportunity to help them. We couldn't do anything as far as money, so we gave them what we had.”

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com and 329-9578.