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Sylvia Woods, Owner of Famed Soul-Food Sylvia’s Restaurant, Dies at 86

Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Sylvia Woods, the proprietor of well known Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s, passed away last Thursday at the age of 86.

Woods passed away at home surrounded by family in Westchester, NY. On Tuesday thousands came out for a viewing and wake for woods at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Thousands more are expected at a public funeral, where Al Sharpton will give the Eulogy, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also expected to give remarks.

Woods started Sylvia’s in 1962 with her husband Herbert as a fifteen seat Luncheonette. The North Carolina born restauranteur built Sylvia’s into a Harlem fixture over the years attracting tourists, soul food lovers and celebrities as diners. Woods crafted a menu that offered soul food dishes from across the Black American diaspora, like Jamaican oxtail, and traditional Southern food like barbecue ribs and collard greens. “What Sylvia did was allow us to keep our culture through the foods and beverages that sustained us for hundreds of years,” said Lloyd Williams of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce and a family friend.

Sylvia’s was not just a destination for traditional soul food, but also often a meeting place for politicians and power brokers. Recently Rep. Charlie Rangel celebrated his senate campaign victory there, “Ms. Sylvia created a special place on Lenox and 127th Street. Sylvia’s may have been famous nationally and internationally, but its soul has always remained in Harlem,” said Rangel. Others like Mayor Dinkins, Mayor Bloomberg, Al Sharpton, Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama and Caroline Kennedy have met and dined there. Rev. Al Sharpton recently dubbed Sylvia’s “a meeting place for Black America.”

Woods had been scheduled to receive an award in honor of her restaurant Thursday evening, at the the annual Harlem Week reception at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. However on Thursday, Woods, who had been bedridden for some time, saw her condition decline. Family members rushed to her side to be with her in her final moments. A family friend accepted on the Woods family’s behalf at Gracie Mansion where the crowd gave Woods a posthumous standing ovation in recognition of her legacy.

Woods leaves behind a business empire that includes her restaurant, cookbooks, a real estate business and a frozen food line. Day-to-day operations of the business will be handled by her family who took over operation when Woods retired in 2007.

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