As we tweeted yesterday, Sylvia Woods, the famed founder of the Harlem restaurant “Sylvia’s,” has died at the age of 86. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past few years, according to a statement from her family.
Ms. Woods had been scheduled to appear at a ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of her restaurant last night. Instead, there was a moment of silence.
“Sylvia Woods came to New York City with a dream and her dedication made it a reality. She exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit that is at the heart of our city’s success,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
Woods came to New York from Hemingway, S.C. in 1962. Starting as a waitress, she went on to buy the luncheonette she worked in and turn it into the institution it is today. Famous names like the Rev. Al Sharpton, Bill Clinton, Roberta Flack, and President Obama have dined there. And it was one of the sites used in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. Her restaurant also served busloads of tourists and locals over the past five decades.
In addition to the restaurant, which now seats 250, Ms. Woods also had a line of products, a catering service and published two cookbooks: Sylvia’s Soul Food: Recipes From Harlem’s World Famous Restaurant and Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook: From Hemingway, South Carolina, to Harlem. She was also receptive to changing her business to keep up with the times. In addition to her usual soul food, she added salads and other healthier options to the menu.
Rather than sending flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Foundation.
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