Community rallies around family of beloved Charlotte restaurant owner killed in crash

CHARLOTTE — A community is rallying around the family of a beloved Charlotte restaurant owner who was killed in a crash earlier this month in southeast Charlotte.

Tecle Gebremussie was a welcoming and kind person, said his patrons and longtime supporters of the Red Sea Restaurant and Bar.

Many say he would do anything for anyone, often offering up his restaurant’s space for community meetings and providing food for large events in the area.

“He was always so nice and always willing to jump in to help,” said Liz Millsaps Haigler, a longtime Oakhurst resident.

She would often see Gebremussie, whom many called “T,” at community meetings. Millsaps Haigler said she was proud when he moved his restaurant to the Oakhurst neighborhood from Elizabeth.

Other patrons remembered his poise and stoic persona when they entered his Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurant on Monroe Road.

“He would just greet you right away. He was just awesome,” said Crystal Crosby, a regular customer.

Crosby said Red Sea is her favorite restaurant because of the food and the atmosphere it offers, which is full of culture, music, and conversation. She said that was all thanks to Gebremussie who made it that way.

“He didn’t just touch a city, he touched continents,” she said. “I loved him. We all loved him.”

Gebremussie’s wife told Channel 9 that he died after a car crash on Jan. 6 on East Independence Boulevard while on the way to his restaurant from Sam’s Club.

She said she knew something was wrong when she got a call from a group that had reserved a table for lunch. There was nobody at the restaurant to let the customers in.

After going to the restaurant and seating the customers, she told her daughter to start calling local hospitals. Staff from one of the hospitals called them back and said Gebremussie was there after a bad wreck.

Gebremussie’s wife said they went to the hospital and were with him when he took his final breath.

It’s a tragedy his family and patrons are still grappling with.

“I mean, it’s heartbreaking,” said Crosby.

“It’s tough because he was the face of the restaurant,” Millsaps Haigler added.

Millsaps Haigler got to know Gebremussie and helped him write a biography for a local publication, she said.

Millsaps Haigler said he immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s and arrived in Charlotte in 1999. Two years later, he opened Red Sea in Elizabeth in 2001 before moving it years later to Monroe Road.

With perseverance and a hard-work ethic, Millsaps Haigler said Gebremussie lived out the American dream.

Now, she and others in the community are keeping that dream alive and are rallying around his wife and children who plan to continue operating the restaurant in Gebremussie’s honor.

“His family would really appreciate it if you came and dined with them again,” Millsaps Haigler said.

There’s a GoFundMe page that was created to support his family.

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Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.