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Tampa Family Business Burns During Protest; Donations Flood In

A charred building with debris and puddles of water in front of it.
Jessica Meszaros

The community is rallying around the owners of a Tampa family restaurant that was destroyed Saturday when peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd grew violent.

Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant is on Fowler Avenue adjacent to the Champs shoe store, which was set ablaze.

It’s owned by Savy Lam and her husband of 21 years, Thanh Son.

By Monday afternoon, a GoFundMe page for the restaurant had already generated more than $50,000.

A note from the couple’s son posted to the page said the money will be used to rebuild the business that the family has run for about four years.

On Monday morning, the couple walked into what was left of the restaruant. Lam wore a white hazmat suit and already had a mask on because of the pandemic.

On the other side of yellow police tape, half of Saigon Bay's sign was missing and the roof was caved in. A majority of the windows were shattered.

Stacked chairs, plants, boxes, and trash bags lined the storefront, surrounded by muddy water.

“I put my heart every day in there. I work every day, so when I see all the stuff gone … it looks like trash can in there and a lot of water … a lot of damage,” Lam said. “So scary. I don't know how gonna go through with this and clean up with this. I don't know.”

The couple came out of the restaurant with several slightly charred statues of Buddha.

Credit Jessica Meszaros/WUSF
Savy Lam, owner of Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant, holding the only things she could salvage from the fire: Buddha statues.

"The Buddha is with me all the time so I bring the Buddha with me. That's all I have. That's all I have. Nothing in there," Lam said.

The business was already suffering from being closed due to the coronavirus, she said.

Then came Saturday, when anger erupted in Tampa over George Floyd, who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck and back while he was handcuffed. Businesses surrounding Saigon Bay were looted. And then a fire started at Champs. 

Lam said her customers have been very supportive.

Some drove up and hugged Lam during her inspection Monday morning, telling her they'll miss her food and that it will be OK.

"A lot of my customers support me, so I'm a little bit happy about that but when I see it ... so, so, so sad. So sad,” she said sniffling.

Richard Amburn, a customer who donated on the GoFundMe page, left this message:

"Savy, her family, and staff have been nothing but friendly every time I eat here. Out of the ashes they will rise and rebuild. Better than before. This too shall pass."

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Since 2012, I’ve been a voice on public radio stations across Florida - in Miami, Fort Myers, and now Tampa.