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Detroit's King Of Corned Beef Dies From Coronavirus Complications

Among the more than 1,200 people in Michigan who have died during the coronavirus pandemic is Otis Knapp Lee, better known as Detroit's king of corned beef. He died Sunday, at age 72.

Lee opened Mr. Fofo's Deli in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood in the early 1970s when he was 25.

"It took off like wildfire," his son, Keith Lee, told TV station Fox 2 Detroit earlier this week. "People loved it. It was basically an overnight success."

The deli's name came from Keith's childhood nickname, Fofo.

The elder Lee's specialties included huge sheet cakes, macaroni and cheese, and a sweet potato pie his grandmother taught him to make.

But he was most famous for heaping corned-beef sandwiches.

The words "corned beef" were written on the deli's front windows. A big "Thank you Detroit" sign stretched overhead.

"It was the go-to place," Keith Lee said. "You know, after church, after the club, just it was the place to be."

The deli catered to some important clients. According to Keith Lee, his father made cakes for both of Bill Clinton's inaugurations.

And every Thanksgiving, lines stretched around the deli when the elder Lee would give away thousands of turkeys.

After nearly 35 years in business, Lee retired and closed the deli.

He got sick about 2 weeks ago.

When the hospital called to say he wasn't getting better, his son Keith raced there to say goodbye. Now, the family is planning a funeral, which they hope to livestream.

Asked what he will miss most about his dad, Keith's voice wavered.

"Him, you know," he said, wiping away tears. "Just him."

All Things Considered has been remembering some of the people who have died from COVID-19, including New Orleans DJ Black N Mild, Brooklyn principal Dez-Ann Romain and New York sociologist William Helmreich.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.

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