After putting in a long shift, the 48-year-old Chinese immigrant, who moved to Ventnor 20 years ago and opened Tsui's Garden and Tsui's Garden II, ventured out on Absecon Bay in a 20-foot skiff with his brother and another relative, according to his daughter.
"That's why he went out at midnight," Ye Chen said.
Ming Zhen Chen was swept overboard some time before 3 a.m., according to officials. The Coast Guard recovered his body around 5 a.m. The other men survived; their capsized vessel eventually washed ashore in a marsh.
The three had been unaware that the monster storm that would kill two others in South Jersey and knock out electrical service to hundreds of thousands was marching in their direction, Ye Chen said.
Before they left, they checked the weather. If they had known the wind would be strong, she said, her father would not have gone out.
The storm, fueled by extreme heat and humidity, pulled up hundreds of deep-rooted trees and snapped utility poles.
At Parvin State Park in PitSalem County, where they were camping with their families, two young cousins - a 7-year-old from Millville and a 2-year-old from Franklin Township - died when a tree crushed their tent around 2 a.m. Authorities said Monday that they would not release the boys' names at their families' request.
In hard-hit Atlantic County, more than 105,000 homes and businesses lost power as a result of the storm - more than half of the total 206,000 Atlantic City Electric customers who lost service, according to the utility.
On Monday evening, about a third of those in Atlantic County who lost power were still in the dark, and some were told that might not change until Friday. Eighty thousand of the utility's customers were without electricity around 9 p.m.
The storm's arrival just days before the lucrative Fourth of July holiday reminded many in Atlantic City's tourism industry of Hurricane Irene.
Irene, which hit before Labor Day weekend, sent tourists packing last year. Many did not return to celebrate summer's traditional last hurrah, bringing an abrupt end to what had been a banner season.
Would concern over lingering effects from the weekend weather deter crowds on Independence Day, businesses wondered?
"You just don't know which way it's going to go," said D.J. Gluck, a Realtor in Margate. "This coming weekend may be very busy because people who didn't come down this past weekend will be here in full force."
Most of the homes in the downbeach communities of Ventnor, Margate, and Longport, where the storm skimmed the coastline, then headed to sea just south of Atlantic City, are owner-occupied, said Gluck, broker-owner at Soleil Sotheby's International Realty.
"There was a lot of concern about damage to properties, but ultimately it wasn't all that bad. There were some fences down, mangled awnings, issues like that. But if you look around today, it doesn't look like anything happened here," Gluck said Monday.
The storm may have drummed up business for a few Atlantic City casino hotels, which served as a refuge for some.
Barrie Feldman, director of marketing services at the Tropicana, said more local residents than usual spent Saturday night at the resort because the casino did not lose power and had working air-conditioning.
Jim Sanders, 73, of Smithville, was one of those who escaped to the Tropicana, then decided to make a weekend of it.
"The house was hot to the point where you couldn't stand it," Sanders said. "I checked out prices on the mainland at some hotels in Absecon, and they wanted what we paid at the Tropicana - about $300 a night. So we figured we would get an ocean view for that money."
Power was restored to his home by Sunday afternoon, Sanders said, but he and his wife were having so much fun, they stayed an extra night.
Those without the ready cash for a mini-vacation had to depend on accommodations at cooling centers set up in Brigantine, Linwood, Egg Harbor Township, and Galloway Township.
"Yeah, we're cranky. We've been here since Saturday, so it's getting a little aggravating," Harold Hines, 74, of Hamilton Township, said Monday. He was among 65 people who had slept on fold-up Army cots and had meals served to them by American Red Cross volunteers in the all-purpose auditorium at Galloway Township Middle School.
All but about a dozen who sought shelter there were gone by Monday. The pared-down group was later taken to a shelter in Vineland, where about 150 planned to spent Monday night after the original four Atlantic County stations were closed. Shelters in Margate, Northfield, and Dorothy also were activated on Monday, officials said.
"Thank God this place was here because I don't know what I would have done without it," said Hines, a retired businessman who uses an oxygen tank because of a medical condition. The temperature in his home was unbearable after the power went out, he said.
It was the same story for Warren Woehr, 74, a retired home builder from Egg Harbor Township, who stayed at the Galloway shelter until it closed.
Atlantic City Electric had not told him when power in his mainland neighborhood might be restored, Woehr said.
"All you can do is sit here and wait, or go home and sit in the heat and not be able to do anything," Woehr said.
Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at www.philly.com/downashore.