Dining With Denise Neil

Tanya’s Soup Kitchen’s new owners have familiar faces

Sarah Osborn-Bennett, left, and Kelly Rae Leffel, are the new owners of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen. Both helped founder Tanya Tandoc run the restaurant before her death last June.
Sarah Osborn-Bennett, left, and Kelly Rae Leffel, are the new owners of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen. Both helped founder Tanya Tandoc run the restaurant before her death last June. The Wichita Eagle

Tanya’s Soup Kitchen has sold, but nothing much will change.

Founder Tanya Tandoc’s right- and left-hand women before she died, manager Sarah Osborn-Bennett and cook Kelly Rae Leffel, signed the final paperwork to purchase the restaurant from Tandoc’s estate on Monday.

“The support has been amazing,” said Osborn-Bennett, who worked for both the original and the current incarnations of the restaurant. “We know we can do this because of the loyalty of the customers. They keep coming back. They gave us the confidence to go for this.”

Tandoc, one of Wichita’s most popular businesswomen and personalities, died last June at age 45. She was killed in her home by friend Curtis C. Mitchell, who later pleaded guilty to premeditated first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

At the time of her death, Tandoc was running her popular soup restaurant, Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, at 1725 E. Douglas, but she had passed many of the day-to-day duties on to Osborn-Bennett and Leffel. After her death, the duo closed the restaurant for four days, then reopened. They’ve run it ever since.

“Because she entrusted us and had already given us our own responsibilities, the transition was easy as far as the actual work,” Osborn-Bennett said. “We knew exactly what to do.”

The two partnered and made an offer on the restaurant quickly, but the process took time as Tandoc’s family sorted through things, they said.

The women will be co-owners, and both said they think Tandoc would approve. Her portrait hangs in the restaurant, and her spirit is still there, they said.

“This is what she would have wanted,” Osborn-Bennett said. “And for me, this is the one place I don’t miss Tanya. When I’m here, I feel like she’s with me here.”

Osborn-Bennett and Leffel have made a few plans for the restaurant. They have some menu cards that Tandoc created when she worked at Larkspur years ago, and soon they plan to prepare those menus for special Thursday-night dinners. They’d also like to begin renting out the restaurant, which is closed weekday evenings, for special events. Opening for price-set dinners on the nights of arena events also is a possibility.

For now, the two said, they’re just relieved things are settled, and so are their employees.

“This is our second home,” Leffel said. “I really do love working here, and I always have.”

Tandoc originally opened Tanya’s Soup Kitchen in the former Union Station baggage area at 725 E. Douglas in 1997, but she lost her lease in 2004 when her landlord, Cox Communications, wanted the space back. For the next seven years, fans of her tomato bisque and chicken curry over rice soups regularly bugged her about reopening.

She finally did in 2011.

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