Sylvia Woods, whose legendary eponymous soul food restaurant in Harlem, New York, drew in the famous, the infamous and just-plain folks, died on July 19 at age 86. The "queen of soul food," as she became known, was surrounded by family and loved ones, the New York Daily News reports.
Her family said in a statement that, "Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer's for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile."
Woods, who hailed from South Carolina, initially worked at the 35-seat Johnson's Luncheonette as a waitress, before borrowing money from her mother to buy the restaurant with her husband and childhood sweetheart Herbert in 1962. The couple renamed the establishment Sylvia's Restaurant.
"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," she told Nation's Restaurant News, the Daily News report said.
Woods far surpassed her dreams. Her empire, now run by children and grandchildren, includes a full-service catering hall, Sylvia's Catering Corp., a line of soul food products sold in supermarkets nationwide and cookbooks. Woods' iconic restaurant, which is located around the corner from the famed Apollo Theater, attracted a who's-who of American celebrities and dignitaries.
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(Photo: STUART RAMSON/AP)