Sylvia Woods, of Hemingway, SC, brought her soul food flavor to Harlem, NY. In 1962, Sylvia opened her very own restaurant on the streets of New York and named it after herself. Sylvia’s Restaurant started off very small, but grew over time. The restaurant attracted politicians, music moguls and civic leaders from near and far.
Sylvia then took brought her soul food to the mass market. Sylvia published numerous cookbooks under her name and made her restaurant a destination for tourists visiting New York.
Sadly, Sylvia Woods passed away at the age of 86 last Thursday, July 19, from Alzheimer’s. Sylvia Woods will be remembered for bringing true southern soul food to people all across the country. Some of her well-known patrons recall the times they spent at Sylvia’s Restaurant.
- Seymour Stein, founder of Sire Records went to Sylvia’s as a teenager. Stein says he remembers dining at Sylvia’s with Bobby Robinson. Robinson is most known as the person who discovered Gladys Knight and the Pips. Robinson also enjoyed a musical career of his own. Stein says he remembers eating the ribs and the fried chicken at Sylvia’s.
- Al Sharpton says his first time at Sylvia’s was with James Brown. Sharpton says Brown was one of his biggest supporters. Sharpton says what originally drew him and Brown to the restaurant was that a black woman owned it. He said he “wanted to help a home girl”. Sharpton says he would often eat the fried chicken and Brown would eat the catfish and greens. Sharpton recalls taking President Obama to Sylvia’s in 2007. On that trip, President Obama dined on fried chicken.
- Doug E. Fresh, a rapper, credits Sylvia’s food and atmosphere to the creation of his restaurant, Red Rooster. He says going to Sylvia’s is like going to your aunt or mama’s house. Doug E. Fresh remembers dining with Puffy prior to Puffy getting his record deal.
- Elizabeth Berger, head of Downtown Alliance, describes her experiences at Sylvia’s. Berger states, “Within five minutes it was like we were regulars. Sylvia was form South Carolina, and she treated New York like it was a small town.”
- Gayle King, co-anchor of “CBS This Morning”, said her memories of Sylvia’s include people from foreign countries. King recalls talking to someone at Sylvia’s who didn’t even know what soul food was.
- Marvet Britto, publicist to Mariah Carey, Foxy Brown and Angela Basset states, “I would see Queen Latifah and Doug E. Fresh, the girls from Salt-N-Pepa, Jay-Z and Damon Dash. Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley had standing tables.” Britto agrees with others and believes that Sylvia’s has become a tourist trap.
- Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings and Phat Farm, says he used to eat at Sylvia’s a lot, but cannot anymore because he is a vegan.
Gordon Davis, former president of Lincoln Center said it best when describing Sylvia’s death and the future of the restaurant, “We all love tourists, but her death, sadly, may be the end of one era and the beginning of another.”
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