Sylvia Woods, also known as the “Queen of Soul Food,” has passed away at 86, the New York Daily News reports.
The Woods family said in a statement that “Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer’s for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile.”
Her death comes just as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Harlem institution Sylvia’s Restaurant at the Mayor’s Mansion.
“We lost a legend today,” the mayor said.
News of her death spread quickly and kind words celebrating her legacy soon followed.
“Sylvia’s has been more than a restaurant, it has been a meeting place for black America,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who recalled dining there with everyone from President Obama to Caroline Kennedy.
“Sylvia’s may have been famous internationally, but its soul has always remained in Harlem,” Rep. Charles Rangel said.
Woods, originally from Hemingway, South Carolina, opened her world-famous Sylvia’s Restaurant in 1962. It was a 35-seat luncheonette where she once worked as a waitress. She and her late husband, Herbert, borrowed money from her mother, who mortgaged the farm where Sylvia was born and raised.
Sylvia, a former beautician, was well aware of the high stakes involved in launching the restaurant.
“I know I had to make it or else my mama was gonna lose her farm. So I gave it all that I had to give,” Woods once told Nation’s Restaurant News.
The Daily News reported:
Located at 126th St. and Lenox Ave., it was right around the corner from the storied Apollo Theater.
The business was a hit and has expanded over the years and now seats up to 450. The family also runs a catering business. Busloads of tourists stop by the Harlem landmark every day and belly up to feast on fried chicken, collard greens and peach pie.
Woods published two best selling cookbooks: “Sylvia’s Soul Food Cookbook” in 1992 and “Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook” in 1999.
She also launched a “Queen of Soul Food” line of bottled hot sauce, candied yams and barbecue sauce featuring her picture on the label.
She retired six years ago, passing the torch to her four children and numerous grandchildren.
In 2001, the Woods family created the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Scholarship Endowment Foundation, which provides scholarships to Harlem children.
Sylvia’s Restaurant is still standing strong. On any given day, one can walk past the historic restaurant and see lines of people waiting to enter the building. Many are locals. But just as many are tourists from China, Germany and other nations that Mrs. Woods probably did not ever envision serving.
She was, indeed, an international cooking icon who made black cuisine an international attraction. Not bad for a farm girl from the segregated south.
We salute Mrs. Sylvia Woods for helping to market black culture around the world, one plate at a time.