KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Stephanie Blaco was on the move, waving to customers, serving home cooking and working the fryer in the kitchen of her restaurant The Mixing Bowl on Southwest Boulevard.
Customers keep coming back for breakfast burritos and plate-sized pork tenderloin sandwiches and the woman who greets them every time they walk through the door.
âShe is very caring, friendly,â said client Karen Morerod. âLike I said, we just got along. You don’t do this with everyone.
Blaco has come a long way since FOX4 Problem Solvers first met her eight years ago.
At the time, Blaco was wanted in several states for fraud, forgery and theft. One of his crimes was to rip people off into renting houses that were not available. She would keep the deposit and disappear before her victims found out they had been scammed.
She was so bad that FOX4 put her in the Hall of Shame for Problem Solvers.
âI was pretty addicted to methamphetamine,â Blaco said. “I was running from the law, running from parole, running from probation.”
Problem-solvers and the police eventually caught up with her in Concordia, Missouri, where she managed an apartment complex. She spent the next seven years in prison at Carrollton.
By the time she was eligible for release, she knew she would likely go back to her old life and start using again. But she didn’t have the chance. Instead, she was transferred to Johnson County, Kansas to serve another sentence.
Three weeks alone in a Kansas jail cell changed my life.
âNo book, no bible, just my thoughts and I said, ‘I’m done,’ said Blaco. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’ll never come back.
Even some of her biggest skeptics, those she had lied to for decades as an addict, believed her. Blaco’s father said he knew she had changed because for the first time he saw it in her eyes.
She got out of jail, went to a halfway house, and got a job at the Mixing Bowl. When the owners decided to sell the place, Blaco’s father bought him the restaurant, knowing it could be the catalyst for new life.
âI strive every day to make this place the best,â said Blaco, who eats six days a week, 8-10 hours a day.
âAs soon as I put my head down at night, I fall asleep,â she laughs.
The change in Blaco’s life is reflected in almost everything she does. Last Thanksgiving, she, along with her family and friends, cooked 75 dinners and handed them out to the homeless. When an employee had to take a month’s absence from work for cancer surgery and chemotherapy treatments, she made sure he didn’t miss a paycheck.
âShe’s awesome,â said Ralph Lavis, who works as a dishwasher and any other necessary work. “I had bladder cancer and they accompanied me all the way.”
Blaco said few people understand tough times better than someone who has lived a lifetime.
She pays court-ordered restitution to her victims every month and must pass a weekly drug test until she is released from probation in 2027. Every day is a new challenge. This is something, she says, that she has never faced in prison.
âIt’s easy in there,â said Blaco. âHere, it’s hard. “
She still has her skeptics, including members of her own family who are waiting for her to relapse.
âI can’t blame them because I’ve been like this their whole life, coming and going in jail,â Blaco said.
Each time, she promised them that she would not come back. This time, she made no promises.
She shows them instead.
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