by: Byron Hurt (cnn)
A friend of mine called me Thursday evening and asked, “Did you hear the news about Sylvia?”
I knew right away which Sylvia my friend was referring to. Something must have happened to Ms. Sylvia Woods, the pioneering restaurateur whose soul food gave so many people comfort.
As I thought about the social and historical significance of Sylvia, what struck me is that my friend didn’t refer to Sylvia as “Ms. Woods” or “Sylvia Woods.”
She simply said “Sylvia.” It was as if she were calling to inform me that a family member or a close personal friend had just passed.
Though Sylvia Woods was not a blood relative, she felt like one to me, and to anyone who frequented her world famous Harlem restaurant. It was a place where you were home. You could let your guard down, relax and dig in.
In her restaurant, framed pictures show Sylvia smiling next to wealthy entertainers, powerful politicians, important foreign dignitaries and famous athletes. The photos are a testament to her wide array of fans across racial and cultural lines.
Legendary restaurateur Sylvia Woods, known internationally as the Queen of Soul Food, passed away on Thursday, according to a statement issued by her family. She was 86.
“Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer’s for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile,” her family said. She died peacefully surrounded by loved ones at her Westchester home.
Woods’ world-renowned Harlem establishment, Sylvia’s, has drawn celebrities, politicians, tourists and locals alike to eat its famed soul food for more than 50 years.
Woods and her husband, Herbert, opened the Lenox Avenue restaurant in 1962, featuring southern cooking staples like cornbread, collard greens, and fried chicken.
“We lost a legend today,” New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said in a statement. “For more than 50 years, New Yorkers have enjoyed Sylvia’s and visitors have flocked to Harlem to get a table. In her words, the food was made with ‘a whole lot of love’ and generations of family and friends have come together at what became a New York institution.”