Raleigh foodies flock to help restaurant workers affected by Durham gas explosion

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Monday marks two months since the downtown Durham gas explosion and for the workers at those restaurants near the blast site, it marks two months since a regular paycheck.

So, Matthew Kelly, the chef at St. James Seafood in Durham, put together a special menu and went to Raleigh to cook it up.

Patrons filled Transfer Co. Food hall to eat up and give back.

The food was the kind that make most smile-- all prepared by the Durham chef who's had to dig extra deep for smiles these past eight weeks.

"The team has been looking for normalcy," Kelly said. "We really wanted to make sure everyone felt comfortable."

When the gas leak exploded on North Duke Street on April 10, shockwaves were immediate and long-lasting. Two people were killed and 25 were injured.

Kaffeinate Coffee was destroyed and two popular restaurants, Torero's and St. James were condemned by the city -- too unsafe to even go inside. They've been shut down ever since.

"But we have full intentions of reopening and can't really wait till we reopen and experience normalcy and just going to a job every day like anyone else," Kelly said.

To help Chef Matt's out-of-work staff and the ones at Torero's and Kaffeinate - his friends at Benchwarmers Bagels at Transfer Co. Food Hall turned their kitchen over to him to serve up a special menu of Kelly's cajun culinary creations as a fundraiser.

"We just want to support them as much as we can and make sure their employees are taken care of," said diner Jolee Todd.

Jen Viccelli added, "I think this is beautiful. This is what community should be about."

While the restaurant industry is notoriously tough and turbulent, Sam Kirpatrick who co-owns Benchwarmers, said ignoring the extreme plight of the Durham restaurant workers was not an option.

"This is like the kind of thing that keeps you up at night; the thing that you can't control, that's so far outside anything you'd expect," he said of the gas explosion. "And just knowing that that happened to our friend and neighbor and not doing something would've been really really awful."

In May, Transfer Co. hosted its first fundraiser for the Durham restaurant workers. It raised $23,000.

There are no numbers yet on Thursday night's event, but for the next two Thursdays, there will be additional fundraisers, just as delicious.

Meantime, there's no timetable on when St. James will reopen.

Kelly said the businesses, the landlord and the city are still in talks about the building's safety and viability.
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