The family of Sylvia Woods, who founded Sylvia's Restaurant of Harlem, announced her passing Thursday at the age of 86. NY1's Polly Kreisman filed the following report.
Sylvia Woods came to New York in 1962 as a hairdresser and began working in a small luncheonette. The owner told her she was such a good cook that she should buy it. Her mother mortgaged the farm in South Carolina and Sylvia's Restaurant was born. It evolved from a small counter out front to an enterprise known around the world 50 years later.
Her granddaughter, Trenness Woods-Black, stood with her father, Kenneth, who is now CEO, to make the sad announcement.
"Ms. Woods was surrounded by a host of family and loved ones," Woods-Black said. "Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer's for the past several years but never once lost her loving smile."
Or her well-known generosity. Eugene Green remembers coming here with his dad.
"I remember when I used to come here with my dad and eat," he said. "And when I didn't come with my dad and tell Ms. Sylvia 'don't write no check 'cause I didn't have any money.' So I got to eat free."
NY1’s Budd Mishkin asked Sylvia the secret to her cooking in 2003.
“Sylvia's secret seasoning,” she said. “You want to know what that is, right? A little this and a little that and you mix it all together. But make sure a whole lot of love has to go in it. If you don't have that, you have nothing at all. "
Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel was a friend. He even held his recent primary night party at Sylvia's.
"The first time I met Sylvia was over 40 years ago when I was a lawyer filling in for her lawyer, someone I believe who became a judge," he said. "And I helped negotiate the lease for her at that place. And that was the reason I became famous, because she was kind enough to say 'here's my lawyer.'"
Other than her family, it was her customers who may have meant the most to Sylvia.
"I remember when Barack Obama was running for president and I asked him where he wanted to have dinner," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "He said Sylvia's."
"She would just come up to us," said a customer. "We had people visiting and she just walked up to them and said. 'You're not from New York.' She had that eye of who was from the community. She was just a wonderful lady.