– Words by Toby Tannas Photography by Darren Hull
Bringing people together is Rudy Tomazic’s speciality. The Kelowna-based realtor and business owner does big, impactful things for his community but he does them in what’s become his signature way: quietly, behind the scenes.
“The thing I enjoy most is making people happy,” Rudy says with a smile. “I get a real charge out of that. I don’t need accolades; I just want to do it.”
As the owner of Friends of Dorothy, the Okanagan’s first LGBT2Q+ cocktail lounge (now with a second location in Victoria), Rudy has created a fun and inclusive environment that embraces the very best of queer culture.
“We live in a world with too much judgment,” Rudy says. “We are judged on our clothing, our face, our hair and body size. Everything is judged. But when you walk into a queer-focused place, everyone is welcome and we’re not judging at all. We want you to come in and just have fun.”
Friends of Dorothy or simply Dorothy’s, as Rudy affectionately refers to it, is a place to grab a snack and a drink and take in a drag show. At least it was until COVID-19 restrictions put the kibosh on performances. But in true star fashion, Kelowna’s resident queens continue to show up for Rudy.
“The queens in Kelowna aren’t being paid to come in right now, but they do! They’re dressed in drag, they’ll just sit on stage with the microphone and talk and heckle people,” he chuckles. “They’re doing it not only to keep what we’ve created alive but to make people laugh and feel good through these challenging times.”
They’re also doing it as a show of respect and gratitude for the man who gave them a permanent stage.
The appreciation for Rudy extends far beyond the LGBT2Q+ community. Together with business partner Nate Flavel, Rudy has turned an annual pop-up drag queen party into a significant fundraiser for the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation. Noir has sold out in each of its three years, allowing Rudy and Nate to donate upwards of $40,000 to the KGH Foundation.
“Everyone needs a hospital, not just the LGBT2Q+ community. Everybody. There’s not a single person on the planet who isn’t going to need medical attention at some point in their lives,” Rudy notes.
The proceeds from Noir have gone to support some of the region’s greatest needs for advancing health care. This includes JoeAnna’s House, as well as a campaign to offer complete cardiac services at KGH by bringing in electrophysiology. Proceeds from Noir also supported the We See You campaign, a fundraising effort in support of KGH staff and the areas of greatest need during the pandemic response.
“Rudy is very humble about his contributions to our community, but he is so generous,” says Allison Ramchuk, Chief Development Officer for the KGH Foundation. “We are so grateful for his gifts to support local health care, and his endless energy and creativity when it comes to fundraising. He’s a very special partner.”
A second event called Diva will also be a fundraiser for the KGH Foundation once COVID-19 regulations are relaxed. Rudy is eying 2022 for the return of both drag shows.
“I’m just so humbled by the support. I’m the type of person who charges full steam ahead into a project or a business. I don’t really stop to think about a Plan B if it should fail. I only ever have a Plan A,” he says, laughing.
Rudy’s drive and penchant for taking risks (he went ahead with plans to open a second restaurant in the midst of the pandemic) were instilled in childhood. It’s a self-taught survival mechanism that came from growing up in a family that he says never really supported his dreams.
“Someone was always telling me that I would never be able to do what I wanted. I was told this is the way it’s going to be and this is the way you’re going to do it. He wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer, but all I ever really wanted to do was make a difference.”
Rudy can check the box on that dream. His philanthropy has helped and will continue to benefit an entire region. Through his real estate/development company and his two restaurants, Rudy is keeping dozens of people in Kelowna and Victoria employed, all while celebrating the LGBT2Q+ community and putting drag queens in the spotlight.
“I really couldn’t do any of this without the support of my three sons, close friends and, of course, the Friends of Dorothy teams in both Kelowna and Victoria. They’ve all been right there with me on this journey. When you look at queer culture, we’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go.”
Rudy is determined to keep pushing forward on that. His next dream is to take Dorothy’s nationwide.
“I want to build a staple for the LGBT2Q+ community. If you’re in Calgary, or Vancouver or Toronto and you’re looking for an LGBT2Q+ establishment, you’ll see Dorothy’s, and you’ll know what you’re going to get! A place that welcomes everybody.”
Rudy admits he has struggled through this pandemic because it’s kept him from the thing he loves most in life—being shoulder to shoulder with people.
“As humans, our nature is to be together. When I’m in the restaurant, I’m not just managing. I’m bussing tables, I’m doing dishes, helping prep, doing whatever is needed. I like to mingle, and I can’t do that right now, which is difficult for me because I just love to hear people’s stories.”
Rudy is now focused on the future and the day he can invite the queens and all the entertainers back on stage to let the good times and the giving roll. Until then, he says, it’s on all of us to keep that diva magic alive.
“More than ever we need to be kind and aligned. Together we will get through this.”