- Associated Press - Friday, August 5, 2016

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) - In the shadow of Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Branson, a new restaurant boasts fresh coffee and a menu of healthy, exotic food.

“We are kind of a unicorn around here,” said Randy Britain, owner of Landon’s Coffee and Deli. “We have all hand-made sandwiches from Europe and Asia.”

The Springfield News-Leader (http://sgfnow.co/2aJJi6v ) reports that business has been good at Landon’s since it opened in July.

But making money was never the goal.

Britain said he and his wife started the business as a way to cope with what has been the darkest time of his life - the killing of his 18-year-old stepson Landon Bays.

Bays was found lying on the side of a street in Springfield with a gunshot wound on March 11. He was transported to the hospital where he spent the weekend in critical condition and later died.

In the days after his stepson’s death, Britain drank to excess.

It was the only way, he said, to numb the pain that comes with burying a child.

Eventually, however, he stopped drinking, started seeing a therapist and found a way to stay busy doing what he loves.

“Whether I make a dollar a day, this has kept me busy and focused in a good way,” Britain said. “It could have went the other way real easy. Real easy.”

Bays’ sister and two brothers are also working at the restaurant, which is located on the first floor of the Music City Center.

Robyn Wittke - who is Bays’ mother and Britain’s wife - said starting the business has given the family something positive to do as they wait for Springfield police to catch Bays’ killer.

“This was kind of our therapy,” Wittke said. “All of us have jumped in.”

No one has been arrested or charged in connection with Bays’ killing, and police say they can’t comment publicly on open investigations.

The sign outside Landon’s Coffee and Deli features a stick-figure drawing of Bays walking his beloved dachshund, Cisco.

The restaurant doesn’t have TV commercials or a huge sign on the side of the road. And there are still some repairs to be made and equipment to be purchased.

The basics, however, are there. A menu board, an espresso machine and a picture of Bays sipping coffee up on the wall.

Bays - who at 6-feet 4 inches, 250 pounds was often described as a gentle giant - graduated high school at 16 and was on his way toward earning a bachelor’s degree when he was shot.

He and his fiance, Nim, were set to be married this summer. Their dream was to open a coffee shop and bakery together in Thailand.

Now, the family is doing its best to honor that dream in Branson.

Landon’s brother, Christian Bays, is in charge of the coffee, and Britain - who has been in the restaurant business for 20 years - handles the food.

Britain said he started the business without any real planning, but it came together quickly.

“I guess it was kind of crazy to do this, looking back on it now,” Britain said. “But it has been amazingly successful so far.”

Many of Bays’ friends and family members, including his father and stepmother, have already stopped by the restaurant for a coffee or quick bite.

Britain said it’s always nice to hear their stories and see how much Bays affected other people’s lives.

“I am blessed that I got to walk the Earth with him as long as I did,” Britain said. “He put other people before himself each and every time.”

Most of Bays’ friends are in Branson or Bolivar. He had only lived in Springfield for a few weeks before he was killed.

His family members wish he never moved there.

In the days following the shooting, Wittke - Bays’ mother - shared what she had been told by her son’s friends about the night of March 11.

Wittke said Bays went to a McDonald’s with a couple of friends that evening.

Bays’ phone started to ring as he was entering the restaurant, so he stepped outside to take the call.

When Bays’ friends finished eating, Wittke said, they went outside to meet up with him, but he wasn’t there.

Bays’ car was still in the parking lot, but he was gone, his mother said.

No one knows how long Bays had been lying on the side of that dark stretch of road before he was spotted by a passing bicyclist who called 911.

Since then, the Springfield Police Department has been working the case.

It’s frustrating for the family to be left with so many questions, but Britain said he’s confident detectives will find those responsible for his stepson’s death.

“The guys that did it, whether they think they are going to get away with it or not, they’re not,” Britain said. “The cops in Springfield are professionals and they are pit bulls, and I am positive they will take care of it.”

In the meantime, Britain is throwing himself into the coffee shop while trying to work through the grief.

Britain said he still has dreams almost every night about the last time he saw Bays before the shooting.

Britain brought some clothes to Bays while he was at work at Spinnaker Resorts the afternoon of March 11.

Bays spotted his stepdad through a bay window, used his remote to unlock the car and then gave a wave goodbye after the clothes were dropped off.

“There’s no clap of thunder,” Britain said. “Nobody taps you on the shoulder like, ‘Hey, your life is about to change.’”

When Bays was found on the side of the road he apparently no longer had his driver’s license, and Springfield police couldn’t identify him.

The next day police released a picture of a wolf tattoo on Bays’ arm and asked for the public’s help.

Britain is the one who saw the tattoo and instantly recognized it as the one Bays had begged his parents to buy for him days before his 18th birthday. Britain was then left with the unenviable task of informing the rest of the family.

“A person doesn’t appreciate the highs of happiness and the good times until you go through the lows of something this tragic,” Britain said.

The tattoo - which Bays said represented the close bonds in their family, like a wolf pack - was crucial in helping authorities identify Bays quickly. It meant his family members were able to get to the hospital and say their goodbyes over the weekend, and Bays was able to fulfill his wish to be an organ donor - although much sooner than anyone would like.

Britain now has the same wolf design tattooed on his right forearm.

Bays had started studying the Bible again in the months before he was killed, and his brother, Christian Bays, has turned to Scripture as he tries to cope with the killing.

Christian Bays said it’s been helpful studying the Bible and also brewing coffee, which is something he and Landon often talked about doing together.

“This would have been his spot,” Christian said. “He would have loved it here.”

Springfield police ask anyone with information about the case to contact them.

___

Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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