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Tommy Bryson remembered as man of family and faith at Mills River Restaurant

(Photo credit: Bryson family)

A restaurant Tommy Bryson went to regularly gives us a barometer of a beloved man.

Bryson is the Mills River man authorities believe was kidnapped by Philip Michael Stroupe II, who was on the run from authorities. Bryson's body was found in a cornfield in Arden on Sunday.

"It's very sad to hear something like that," said owner Nick Sellas of Mills River Restaurant. "Very disappointing for the whole community, you know? Very upsetting."

You build a restaurant on a quality service and great food, but it only becomes a local landmark with the help of memorable people like Bryson.

The place where the Mills River community breaks bread together is broken-hearted.

"Things can happen in a split second and you never know when or what," Jo-Ellen Morris, a neighbor of Tommy's, said.

"Everybody loved Tommy," husband Donald added.

At Mills River Restaurant, customer Tommy Bryson was as constant as the salt and pepper.

"A lot of his family worked here you know," Sellas explained.

For three decades, the restaurant's been a Bryson family staple. Tommy came in at least a few times a month, he recalled.

For Nick, it's hard to swallow something so senseless.

"It's not fair, you know. It's not fair," he fumed. "Because somebody crazy decided to stop someone's life. It's fair for nobody."

Bryson is remembered as a man of faith who never got mad at anyone. He was also the co-owner of Appalachian Stove in Asheville for many years.

"Well, I was out in the yard when they had all the helicopters flying over," Donald Morris remembered. "I didn't know he was missing at that time."

That was days ago, when there was still hope the grandfather of six would be found alive.

"He's a good man," Donald stressed. "He's a good neighbor."

"He was really tender and sweet," Jo-Ellen said. "I really loved Tommy."

Nick recently bought dinner for a group of 70, including relatives and authorities searching for Tommy.

"The only thing I could do is give something to them, you know?" he said. "To help, that's the least I can do."

He can relate to unthinkable loss because of his own pain. Four months ago, Nick's son Nicholas died of heart complications at 35.

"He left behind a little boy," Nick said. It's still hard for him to fathom the road forward.

He feels for the Brysons who now face life without a beloved man, who was so many things to so many people.

"It's not easy. I've been going through it myself, you know," Nick said. "It's hard. One day at a time."

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