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‘Dreams don’t burn,’ says owner of new cafe damaged in White Center fire

Firefighters work to contain a fire that damaged businesses on 16 Ave SW near Roxbury in White Center. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Fire/Twitter)

Several businesses were damaged early Monday by a fire in White Center, including a new boba tea and bingsu (Korean shaved ice) cafe that was set to open soon.

Sharon Lei and Young Cho are the owners of Nuggi, the cafe, which is named after the owner’s dog.

“[We were] definitely really excited to open,” Lei told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show. “This is my first business. I just graduated college and [am] pursuing a dream of mine that I always had since I was a kid, having a café in a neighborhood. … I’m already learning how to run a business, now I have to learn how to deal with a fire and my business burning down, and especially this is my first business. I wasn’t ever going to give up, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a hurdle I have to go through.”

“I’m super devastated with all the time and the art and the heart that I had with the spot,” she added. “And the dream of this location is no longer a dream, but big dreams don’t burn, just the building.”

Cho admits they already faced an “uphill battle” trying to open a new business during the downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We already had the struggles and challenges that we were facing going into this project,” he said. “But as far as the life mentality goes, especially being a small business owner, anything can really happen.”

“The definition of Sharon’s character will be how she proceeds on after a devastating fire,” Cho said. “Being a small business owner previously before jumping into this project with my girlfriend, I kind of understood the hurdles, right? I knew that at any time anything can really happen. And it’s really about being able to pivot and being able to adapt so that we can keep living a positively narrated life.”

Lei says there’s a quote that sticks in her head from her childhood that helps her stay positive.

“Since I was a kid that little quote from Dory in Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming’ kind of plays in my head,” she said. “… So, I mean, whatever the situation, you’ve just got to find something positive or some humor about it because that’s life, and there’s always going to be the good things and bad things and the in between, so I’m just living life and loving it as it goes.”

At this point, the cause of the fire is still unknown. Cho says it was not fireworks related and it doesn’t seem to be arson. The investigation is still ongoing, but he says they were told it does seem accidental and could have been an electrical fire in a business a couple doors down from their café.

“It just happened to blow, the wind was blowing north, and so it started working its way over through Rat City Tattoo and then the West Seattle Boxing Gym and then us,” Cho said.

In total, Lei and Cho estimated that the fire impacted about eight businesses.

“The fire essentially kind of stopped at our unit, it completely burned our entire ceiling,” Cho said. “Unfortunately, the two other businesses north of us, they succumbed to heavy water damage due to them trying to extinguish the fires.”

For now, Lei and Cho recognize that this building might not be their home, but they’re not giving up. There’s a GoFundMe started for the boba cafe, which raised almost $9,000 in the first few hours.

“I think it’s really just about the community and whether it was our business or someone else’s business, I feel like the community that we live in of South Park and White Center, they’re really coming together and supporting us,” Cho said. “We’ll forever be grateful for them and our neighbors, our friends and our families.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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