CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- For more than three decades, Mediterranean Deli & Catering has been a staple on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill.
After a fire on Saturday destroyed much of the building, and put dozens of people out of work, customers and Chapel Hill business owners are rallying around its owners.
"This is not a business, it's like home to me," said Jamil Kadoura, who opened the restaurant in 1991. The former Palestinian refugee says he and his wife poured their savings to open the storefront 10 years after he immigrated to the US.
In the wake of the damaging fire, an online fundraiser taken up in support of the Kadouras had raised over $125,000 in less than 48 hours. Roughly 25 Chapel Hill business owners also held a virtual meeting over the weekend to organize their own, independent support effort.
Kadoura said the building is covered by insurance, and anything he receives will go towards paying the 81 people he employs that suddenly find themselves out of work.
"I'm not surprised at all with this community. I know this community very well, and it was a little for me, a little bit hard to accept. But when I start thinking about it, it's not for me, for my employees," he said.
Robert Poitras is one of the business owners who's stepping in to help. He owns Carolina Brewery just down the block and says Jamil has always been there for others in the past and this is an attempt to return the favor.
"Jamil and the Med Deli are a staple to this side of town in particular. They do so much throughout the year to give back to us all to have a chance to give back to them is really heartwarming. And the town is just getting started in its response," Poitras said.
Jamil says he hopes to find a temporary kitchen somewhere downtown in the interim, and they will reopen at their established location as soon as it's safe.
"I only want one thing. I want to see a flame in a kitchen where I can go saute some food. That's the only thing he's going to is going to calm me down. If I do this, everything is going to be fine," he said.