KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Stephanie Blaco was in constant motion, greeting customers, serving platters of homestyle cooking and working the fryer in the kitchen of her restaurant The Mixing Bowl on Southwest Boulevard.
Customers keep coming back for the breakfast burritos and the plate-size pork tenderloin sandwiches and for the woman who greets them every time they walk in the door.
“She’s very caring, friendly,” said customer Karen Morerod. “Like I say we just hit it off. You don’t do that with everybody.”
Blaco has come a long way since FOX4 Problem Solvers first met her eight years ago.
Back then, Blaco was wanted in multiple states for fraud, forgery and theft. One of her crimes was scamming people by renting them homes that weren’t available. She’d keep the deposit and disappear before her victims would discover they’d been scammed.
She was so bad FOX4 put her in the Problem Solvers Hall of Shame.
“I was addicted to meth pretty bad,” Blaco said. “I was running from the law, running from parole, running from probation.”
Problem Solvers and police finally caught up with her in Concordia, Missouri, where she was managing an apartment complex. She spent the next the seven years in prison in Chillicothe.
By the time she was eligible for release, she knew she’d probably return to her old life and start using again. But she didn’t get the chance. Instead, she was transferred to Johnson County, Kansas, to serve out yet another sentence.
Three weeks alone in a Kansas jail cell became life changing.
“No book, no Bible, nothing but my thoughts and I said, ‘I’m done,’” Blaco said. “I can’t do this no more. I’m not ever coming back.”
Even some of her biggest skeptics, those she’d spent decades as an addict lying to, believed her. Blaco’s father said he knew she’d 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 dad bought her the restaurant – knowing it could be a catalyst to a new life.
“I strive every day to make this place the best,” said Blaco, who’s at the restaurant six days a week, 8-10 hours a day.
“As soon as I lay my head down at night, I’m asleep,” she said laughing.
The change in Blaco’s life is reflected in almost everything she does. Last Thanksgiving she, along with family and friends, boxed up 75 dinners and handed them out to the homeless. When an employee had to miss a month of work for cancer surgery and chemo treatments, she made sure he didn’t miss a paycheck.
“She’s great,” said Ralph Lavis, who works as a dishwasher and any other job that’s needed. “I had cancer on my bladder, and they were with me all the way.”
Blaco said few understand hard times better than someone who has already lived a lifetime’s worth.
She pays court-ordered restitution to her victims every month and has to pass a weekly drug test until she’s off probation in 2027. Every day is a new challenge. It’s something, she said, she never faced in prison.
“It’s easy in there,” Blaco said. “Out here is hard.”
Still she has her doubters, including members of her own family who are waiting for her to relapse.
“I can’t blame them because I’ve been that way their whole lives, back and forth to prison,” Blaco said.
Each time she promised them that she wouldn’t return. This time, she made no promises.
She’s showing them instead.