Saturday, June 6th, 2015

In A World Starving For Empathetic Genius, One City Loses An Icon

Indelible Brand Now Becomes Legacy

Where you've been during a lifetime stays with you, or so they say.

In my case, life's journey led me through a number of communities throughout the United States.

Including one smack in its middle: Wichita, Kansas.

It was in Wichita that so much came together that my time there became the inflection point in my life, with 12 years of early career experiences that continue to shape a life today.

For those unaware, Wichita is like many so-called mid-market cities.

One bound up in stereotypes, while at the same time yearning to be freed from the clichés outsiders' heap upon it.

Yet in Wichita, just as in iconic cities of the world, great talent finds a way to emerge.

So it was with Tanya Tandoc, entrepreneur, owner, celebrity chef and kitchen genius behind an institution local to Wichita known as Tanya's Soup Kitchen.

As with so many who at first may not strike many as capable of genius, the name of Tandoc's business was itself a misdirection, as a soup kitchen is most often understood as a place where food is offered to the hungry for free or at a below market price. The metaphor helped make her brand indelible, as the curious who initially stopped by were surprised, delighted, and hooked on some of the best lunch menu fare one might find in the area, and most anywhere.

To create an enduring business brand, Tandoc turned to our own Tracy Holdeman earlier in his career. Recognizing her budding genius, Holdeman agreed to assist Tandoc even though she had no budget for the work. He landed upon the metaphor to reveal Tandoc is the equal of a true artist, an artist who invests much of herself into her creations, her art, her soup.

Opened in 1997, Tandoc quickly had a hit on her hands with Tanya's Soup Kitchen. Located in downtown Wichita, her soup and other menu dishes attracted the business and casual lunch crowd from a wide radius.

With as open a heart as one might find among a successful business owner, she could also be seen fulfilling the stereotypical charge of a soup kitchen, handing out a meal to someone in need.

No matter who you were, Tandoc's dishes captivated. So much so that even after leaving the area, I made it a point to drop by and enjoy a menu selection when returning to Wichita to visit family and friends. Often topped off by a bread pudding among the best anywhere.

Tandoc closed the doors of Tanya's Soup Kitchen in 2004. Yet the vacuum left by it's closing never dissipated, prompting her to reopen in a new location in 2011. Tanya's Soup Kitchen 2.0 quickly became a success.

For Wichita, Tandoc and Tanya's Soup Kitchen had become iconic. A restaurant experience unavailable elsewhere, anywhere, a midday gathering place where great food, conversation and a predictable comfort were available. These qualities are so consistent that Tanya's began offering evening hours on select nights.

Thus it was that yesterday I received news creating an instant sense of loss. Tanya Tandoc, the inspirational celebrity chef and food personality, died at age 45, the victim of a senseless crime.

A loss felt at least as far away as New York, and surely further.

Although I did not know her personally, as with many I knew Tandoc through her artistry and her food.  As a fellow entreprenuer and creative, my appreciation grew with each visit to Tanya's Soup Kitchen. 

As Tandoc shared in this 2011 profile:

"If I didn't have to sleep, I wouldn't. I can sleep when I'm dead. There is just too much to do that is fantastic to waste a single second."

An outpouring of respect, admiration and loss, demonstrating Tandoc's impact during her too short life, appears on her restaurant's Facebook page and @TanyasSoup, with her restaurant closed in mourning now a public shrine.

With word Tanya's Soup Kitchen reopens Monday, June 8, the community Tandoc created will continue.  

And now, she may sleep.


[Author: Steve Cranford of WHISPER globally]

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