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Around Kansas City, Playfood was already available. Eden Alley was using it for menu items. More than 50 Price Chopper, Balls and Hen House stores were stocking it in their refrigerated sections. National chains such as Whole Foods were interested in carrying it as soon as Van Pelt could get the production plant certified as organic.
Better yet, she felt she'd finally landed on her feet. Tension with Smith had eased, she said. As she dipped organic blue-corn chips in a still-hot batch of "Nacheezmo," she said he was doing his thing in California — opening the still-unfinished restaurant in Studio City — and she was handling the commercial production in Missouri.
"I'm being responsible, and all the earlier efforts are paying off," she said. "Now it's actually happening. We have a building that we're working out of that's legal, and we're putting bottles out in grocery stores and coming to work every morning at 8 a.m. Here I feel really grounded, like I'm in a good, wholesome place."
Even on that upbeat day, though, she and her mother were butting heads. Duncan was the general manager, and the two disagreed about how to run the company. They also didn't see eye to eye when it came to Rozzo's role as the production manager. Van Pelt said that for her whole life, she'd felt abandoned or antagonized by her mother.
In December, she asked friends to call her Solei because she was so sick of hearing Duncan bark her given name.
Duncan agreed that she clashed with her daughter but emphasized that the two had been managing to compromise.
By the start of 2007, Van Pelt was convinced that Duncan and bookkeeper Kay Honeycutt were running Playfood into the ground financially and trying to wrestle away control of the business. On January 6, she fired her mother in what she describes as "a gentle e-mail."
She wanted to clean house and install new employees who shared her passion for Playfood.
Instead, her past caught up with her. On Monday morning, January 8, Smith was waiting for her. He'd gotten a call from Duncan with the news that she'd been fired — and that a camera crew from KSHB Channel 41 was filming a segment about Playfood that day.
Smith says he discovered that morning that Van Pelt had created a new company without him. He says Van Pelt defrauded him by taking $13,000 he'd sent in October and $7,100 he'd sent on January 2 for a company in which he held no authority.
"My first words to her were 'I think we need to sit down and talk about this,'" Smith says. "And her first words to me were 'I don't care what you think.' It went downhill from there."
Smith found a receipt for the computers, and he and Duncan started to leave with an armful.
Rozzo and Van Pelt saw it as theft and tried to stop them. Obscenities flew. The Parkville police showed up but left without writing a report.
"It was like a Jerry Springer episode," Van Pelt says.
That evening, she filed a restraining order against her mother. She wanted Duncan banned from the Playfood premises. Without commenting, a Platte County judge denied her claim that night.
A week later, in Rozzo's West Side apartment at 16th Street and Madison, Van Pelt and Rozzo drank soy-milk White Russians to blunt their outrage. Company computers sat on an end table. A large silver funnel from the industrial blender sat on the middle of their queen-sized bed. They didn't want anyone to steal from or sabotage the Playfood cave while they slept.