The ‘Queen Of Soul Food’ Rests In Peace
Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, NYC, is the place, which Adam Richman once called good enough to “warm my heart and fill my belly.” The reason was the “authentic soul food” sold here since 1962. The woman behind this soul-food establishment, Sylvia Woods, died recently, aged 86 but in her Harlem restaurant, she would continue to live on as “The Queen of Soul Food.” The title was bestowed upon her by the black community members who gathered at the restaurant to enjoy Sylvia’s heart-breakingly good dishes. Sylvia is survived by four children, 18 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
Lost a Legend
Sylvia passed away at her home in Mount Vernon, New York after suffering, for several years, from the Alzheimer’s disease. Speaking about her demise, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “For more than 50 years, New Yorkers have enjoyed Sylvia’s and visitors have flocked to Harlem to get a table. We lost a legend today.” Incidentally, Sylvia was to receive an award soon during the Harlem Week, which would have commemorated the 50th anniversary of her landmark restaurant that is still going great guns. For years, performers at the legendary Apollo Theater have continued to stop by for a bite before the curtains go up and now that there will be no Sylvia roaming among the diners anymore, the loss is felt more than ever. Rev. Al Sharpton spoke in her memory, “Sylvia was not just a pillar in the community but her brand resonated across the world and her business acumen helped put Harlem on the map.” The reverend informed that he had enjoyed many a meals at Sylvia’s in the company of the rich and the famous such as President Barack Obama and Caroline Kennedy.
Fifty Years On
When Sylvia opened her famous restaurant, named after herself, in 1962, it was a one-room establishment with just 35 seats. At that time, she was new to NYC and had just traveled from her native South Carolina, bringing with her the quintessential understanding of Southern cooking. When she first thought of opening the “Sylvia’s”, she was working as a waitress at the Lenox Avenue. At the same locality, she bought a small lunch counter, with financial help from her mother. By the time her restaurant was well-established, it had grown to 450 seats in capacity. Her restaurant, which has not fallen prey to the chain culture, continues to be an icon in the local culinary culture. She also ran a catering facility as well as a packaged food business on the side.
Over the years, Sylvia’s menu has boasted of true soul food fare, which includes, collard greens, barbecued ribs, golden fried chicken, and chitterlings. Well, for people not really concerned about the calorie-count, this food is definitely soul-satisfying but with changing times, as Americans grew more conscious of what they put in their mouths, Sylvia’s also introduced the modern fare, which was lighter on stomach, like barbecued salmon and grilled chicken. The restaurant also opened new branches in Atlanta as well as at John. F. Kennedy International Airport. Among the renowned visitors to her restaurant were former President Bill Clinton, who was a Harlem resident at one point of time and even came back for soul food to Sylvia’s even after being elected the president.
The Soul Food Ambassador
Sylvia Woods was considered to be America’s soul food ambassador and she has published a lot of cookbooks, sharing her love for soul food with the public. Her more recent work of writing was a foreword for her grandson, Lindsey Williams’ book, “Neo Soul: Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘Nutha Level.” The book describes the soul food’s approach to low-calorie options. Speaking to a newspaper in 1999, Woods had said, “Dining at the restaurant is like dining in my own kitchen. I have a special table where I can sit and watch everybody when they come in; and when they get their food, I can see the expression on their faces. When they take a spoonful and smile, then I bow my head and think, ‘Yeah, I got it. I got it.’”
Today, Sylvia's is considered to be one of the top 10 sould food restaurants in NYC. Although, it had been quite some time since Sylvia had stepped back from running the restaurant on a daily basis, she was involved in whatever was happening at Sylvia’s. Her children and grandchildren are now looking after the business. However, for those who will continue to eat at the Sylvia’s, Sylvia Woods’ benign spirit shall continue to look over them as they bite into their golden fried chicken.