Sylvia Woods, center, moves to the music outside her restaurant, Sylvia’s, during the restaurant’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2002.
BY HELEN KENNEDY / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
THURSDAY, JULY 19, 2012, 6:01 PM
Harlem’s legendary “Queen of Soul Food” Sylvia Woods, whose 50-year-old restaurant drew dignitaries and ordinary folk from all over the world to taste her fried chicken, died Thursday at 86.
Her timing was as impeccable as her pie: she died just as Mayor Bloomberg was paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Sylvia’s at a gala reception at Gracie Mansion.
“We lost a legend today,” the mayor said.
Her family said she was surrounded by a host of family and loved ones when she passed.
“Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer’s for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile,” the Woods family said in a statement.
Tributes quickly began pouring in.
“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.
Rep. Charles Rangel said he was “deeply saddened” at the loss of a friend.
“She was a dynamic, warm and kind woman whom the entire Harlem community will miss,” he said.
Rangel called the eatery, where he recently celebrated his squeaker primary win, “a magical place that brought the community together.”
“Sylvia’s may have been famous nationally and internationally, but its soul has always remained in Harlem,” he said.Woods, an ambitious and charismatic beautician from South Carolina, opened “Sylvia’s” in 1962, buying the 35-seat luncheonette where she worked as a waitress.
She and her late husband and childhood sweetheart, Herbert, borrowed the money from Sylvia’s mother, who mortgaged the farm in South Carolina where Sylvia was born and raised to stake her daughter’s dream.
“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.
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.