Sylvia’s Restaurant ‘Soul Food Queen’ Sylvia Woods Dies at 86

Sylvia’s Restaurant is located in hard-to-reach Harlem, New York, but even if you’ve always stayed downtown on city visits, you may know the face of soul food queen Sylvia Woods.

Sylvia Woods owned and operated the restaurant that is a soul food fan’s must-visit in NYC for many years, but it wasn’t her only claim to fame.

The doyenne of Southern cuisine in the North also appears on a range of supermarket products for sale nationwide, featuring items based on her restaurant’s notable cuisine and including hot sauce, peach cobbler mix, canned collard greens and batters for chicken and fish.

Woods’ Sylvia’s Restaurant opened in the early 60’s and has long been a destination of note on New York City culinary lists despite its relatively remote location compared to joints in Midtown or Greenwich Village.

Sylvia’s Restaurant also became nationally notable after a controversy involving Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, during which he made comments many felt were racially insensitive and demeaning after visiting Sylvia’s Restaurant a few years back.

sylvia's restaurant sylvia woods dies

O’Reilly had recounted a lunch he had at Sylvia’s Restaurant with civil rights leader Al Sharpton, and the former expressed surprise that despite being a black restaurant in a black neighborhood with primarily black diners, it was a peaceful and enjoyable establishment to visit.

Afterwards, O’Reilly said the comments had been taken out of context, and remarked:

“If you listened to the full hour, it was a criticism of racism on the part of white Americans who are ignorant of the fact that there is no difference between white and black anymore. Circumstances may be different in their lives but we’re all Americans. Anyone who would be offended by that conversation would have to be looking to be offended.”

Among notable other visitors of Sylvia Woods’ Sylvia’s Restaurant are President Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton and a large roster of celebrity fans. Woods passed at her Mount Vernon, NY home on Thursday after battling Alzheimer’s for years.