Tanya’s soup kitchen staff honored in new portrait room

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Artist Richard Davies, left, was commissioned by Kelly Rae Leffel, owner of Tanya’s soup kitchen, right, to create portraits of staff members to accompany a famous painting he made of the late owner Tanya Tandoc.

The Wichita Eagle

For five years, an oil painting by Tanya’s soup kitchen The late founder Tanya Tandoc secured a place of honor in the restaurant at 1725 E. Douglas.

Painting, by local artist Richard Davies, shows Tandoc how her many friends and fans remember her: smiling warmly with her hair piled on top of her head, looking through her chunky-rimmed glasses as she holds her beloved pug, Olive.

Now this famous portrait has company.

Owner Kelly Rae Leffel, a longtime manager who bought the restaurant after the Tandoc murder in 2015, has just turned a small hallway into a mini art gallery.

Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she asked Davies to create a series of portraits featuring members of her restaurant staff, past and present. Her goal: to show the people who work for her how important they are.

“It’s not just a face,” Leffel said. “A restaurant has many faces. It’s the face of the people who greet you at the checkout. These are the people who come to your table and get to know you as part of our family, ”she said. “… I wanted to show my staff that they are just as much a part of this place as Tanya is and I am.” It’s bigger than a single person.

The gallery, which hung about a week ago, now features 20 square oil painting portraits of Leffel’s recognizable staff. There is also a larger portrait of Leffel.

Tanya and Olive have been moved to a more visible location, and customers now see this portrait as soon as they walk through the door. Staff portraits – which include images of longtime employees like Monte Riegel Wheeler, Jordan Patrick-Satterfield, Marty Brown, and Kyle Tinius – are displayed alongside.

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Tanya’s soup kitchen owner Kelly Rae Leffel just hung 20 portraits she commissioned from current and former staff. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

Davies was commissioned by Tandoc about a year before his death to create a portrait of his Pug Olive, who had grown quite old. He said he persuaded Tandoc that she should also be in the portrait.

Tandoc loved the finished product, he said, and he was varnishing it when she died. Davies held onto the room until Leffel was ready to hang it in the restaurant.

It took Davies all summer to complete all 20 portraits, and he still has four more to do. He enjoyed the project, he said, and he loves the result of the paintings.

“That’s what I love to do more than anything, is paint,” he said. “I don’t know how to describe it. Time flies. “

Leffel said she plans to order portraits for the employees once they reach their two-year-olds at the restaurant. Its staff members were “overwhelmed with pride” at being recognized.

She still struggles to visit her new portrait room without getting emotional, Leffel said.

“I just think Richard did an amazing job capturing the essence of everyone,” she said. “I can be quite suffocated just looking at him.”

This story was originally published November 22, 2021 11:23 a.m.

Denise Neil has been covering dining and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners for local restaurant information. She is a regular judge at local culinary competitions and speaks to groups across Wichita about food.


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