Finding a home at Joe’s

By Leah Campbell
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Durham is the fifth largest city in North Carolina. But to Chicago native Tyrus Thomas, the Bull City is slower than molasses and just as bland.

Or it was, until the electrician stumbled upon Joe’s Diner – a hot dog eatery on the corner of Angier Avenue and Driver Street.

Thomas (left) and Bushfan at Godspeed Internet Cafe. The two have been friends since 2008. (Staff photo by Leah Campbell)

“This place brings food home to me,” Thomas said. “I can’t stand the food in this state. It’s garbage.”

Being from Chi-town, Thomas claims to know a good hot dog when he tastes one, and Joe’s gets the job done. Thomas has known the owner of Joe’s Diner, Joseph Bushfan, since 2008 – before the diner was a diner at all.

Thomas was a firefighter at the time and went to the former T&J Grill to get orangeades, until the establishment closed. He ran into Bushfan outside of the vacant property, and the two hit it off. Bushfan offered Thomas one of his hot dogs, and Thomas said that’s when he fell in love with Joe’s hotdogs.

So when Bushfan mentioned electrical problems and told Thomas about his dream for the space, Thomas offered his assistance. Thomas began helping Bushfan full-time with the demolition and restoration, giving him pointers acquired during his 30 years in the renovation industry and helping him save the original character of the building.

The diner opened in January of last year and has been a big boost for a troubled neighborhood, Thomas said. He wants people to recognize what Bushfan has done for the community.

Bushfan poses with his staff at Joe's Diner. The team has become a second family for Thomas. (Staff photo by Leah Campbell)

“He’s one of those guys that’s not out there for himself,” Thomas said. “He hires people from this neighborhood to give them work. There’s a lot of stuff he really wants to do here. He’s genuine, and I like him for it.”

Bushfan, who also owns the two buildings adjacent to Joe’s diner, Godspeed Internet Cafe and TROSA Grocery, wants to expand across the intersection. He wants to open a chicken and ribs joint, a pool hall and an arcade center for teenagers.

“This diner was my baby,” Bushfan said, “now this whole intersection is.”

The diner, special to many, has also become Thomas’ second home. He can be found there almost every day, often from open to close, at his table – the one closest to the back door.

“I used to have to come here because it was the only place in the state with food that I liked,” Thomas said, “but now I come to hang out. I get my laptop and just come and chill. I like it here. It’s the only thing, other than my daughters, that keeps me in Durham and helps me cope.”

The walls of Joe’s Diner are covered in scripture written by the members of the community that have supported Bushfan since the diner’s opening. Thomas says that with a little luck, those prayer-filled walls should stand for the “big bald love” that is Joseph Bushfan for at least the next 200 years.