Sylvia Woods, the matriarch of the famed Harlem restaurant that bore her name and a New York City icon, died Thursday at her Westchester home, family members said in a statement.
She was 86 and had been battling Alzheimer’s disease, her family said.
Woods, born in Hemingway, S.C., worked at a restaurant in Harlem for eight years before buying her own restaurant with her husband Herbert in 1962. The Lenox Avenue and 126th Street restaurant became an institution, attracting a loyal following that ranging from locals, presidents to celebrities and tourists alike, coming there for cornbread, ribs, collard greens, fried chicken and other staples of Southern cooking.
In 2001, the Woods family created the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Scholarship Endowment Foundation, (after her husband died in the same year) which provides scholarships to Harlem children.
Rep. Charles Rangel, said he celebrated his recent victory in the Democratic primary for Congress at the restaurant, which is in his district and which he described as “a magical place that brought the community together.”
“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,” he said. “Nothing can replace its founder, but her legacy will live on in the memories she helped make.”
Rev. Al Sharpton said Sylvia’s was “more than a restaurant, it has been a meeting place for Black America.” He said he had dined there with many famous faces including President Barack Obama and Caroline Kennedy.
“Sylvia Woods came to New York City with a dream and her dedication made it a reality,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement Thursday. “She exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit that is at the heart of our city’s success.”
In addition to the restaurant, Woods and her family ran a catering business and own a line of soul food products. She published two bestselling cookbooks, “Sylvia’s Soul Food Cookbook” and “Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook.”
“Ms. Woods was surrounded by a host of family and loved ones,” the statement from her family read. “The family is thankful for your prayers.”
In lieu of flowers, the family said it would appreciate donations to the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Foundation.
She said funeral arrangements were still being finalized.
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