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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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His Battle with Cancer Could Not Stop Him from Running an Italian Restaurant

His Battle with Cancer Could Not Stop Him from Running an Italian Restaurant

by James Coulter

He was diagnosed with Stage 4b squamous cell carcinoma of the left lateral lobe of his tongue. His case went from nothing to Stage 4b within three months. He had 75 percent of his visible tongue vein cut out and replaced with the artery from his left wrist and arm.

Yet despite his condition and all the odds stacked against him, not only did Blake Jones survive his cancer, he still had plenty of time to open an Italian restaurant in Bartow.

Blake Jones is the new executive chef at Tua Pasta Restaurant in Bartow, which will be celebrating its grand opening on Tue. June 27 at 5 PM. Jones will be running the eatery under the owners Gerado and Luisa Alanez. Not only was he able to achieve his dream of owning his own restaurant, but he managed to do so while battling cancer.

“I beat 20 people with half a tongue for a job,” Jones said. “I was there for a year and a half. This was not what I wanted. I have been trying to start my own business. Life happens, and it changes. In that aspect, I had to figure something out…I was meeting with the owners two weeks ago and now I have the keys to the eatery.”

Born and raised in Winter Haven, Jones moved to North Carolina in 2005 where he graduated high school. At age 16, he started working at Ruby Tuesday’s as a host before moving to the kitchen and eventually running it at only age 17. “I was running a kitchen for a multi-million corporation,” he said.”

Jones owes his career path to his family. His grandfather was an immigrant from Cuba who inspired him to eat different foods, while his father worked 35 years at Treat USA.

He eventually joined the army after high school. Once he returned from active duty, he decided to return to the kitchen. He worked at Ruby Tuesday’s again, then returned to Florida where he worked at Arabella’s, starting as a grill cook before being offered the position as sous chef only six months later when the original chef retired.

He later worked at Ninteen61, where he helped prepare the staff with 157 seats. Then he worked as the executive chef at Balmormal Resort, where he was given half a million dollars to help open the event center.

His life took a sharp left turn in November 2020. What appeared to be an innocuous canker sore, which Jones initially treated with salt water and vinegar, was discovered to be cancer. Three months later, following a biopsy, what started as a cancerous sore elevated to Stage 4b cancer.

“How do you react to that? It was that aggressive,” he said. “In 10 days, my cancer was so aggressive, not only did it transfer from my tongue, but it spread to my lymphatic system in my neck. If it went under the collar bone, to my lungs and thyroid, then I would need to get my affairs in order.”

Jones started receiving cancer treatment from the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. He went into a 12-hour surgery, which eventually became a 36-hour surgery. He then received chemo therapy followed by 60 days of radiation. He lost 100 pounds after his first 8 days of chemo.

Through it all, what kept him alive and going what his loving family, especially his three-year-old daughter, who is turning four this year. Now that he has overcome his cancer, he hopes to live out the rest of his days running his new eatery.

“My inspiration, the only thing that got me through it, was my daughter,” Jones said. “She was a year old when I was diagnosed. If it wasn’t for her, I would not be here.”

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