Funeral for Soul Food Queen Sylvia Woods

Funeral services were held Wednesday for legendary Harlem restaurateur Sylvia Woods in Mount Vernon, New York.

Family, friends, religious and community leaders, and politicians, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and former New York Governor David Paterson, packed the pews of Grace Baptist Church.

Woods, who died last week at the age of 86 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, was remembered  as a trailblazing restaurateur, who with her warm and generous spirit, turned her small eatery in 1962 into the bustling city treasure it is today.   Woods started her soul food restaurant “Sylvia’s” with money she borrowed from her mother.  Despite hardships and setbacks along the way, she continued to build her business which became a tourist destination.

“Sylvia was fighting all the obstacles of a small business—the economic development, getting the capital and racism.  And she grew to have the most famous restaurant in the most famous neighborhood in the world,” said former Governor David Paterson.

“She built that restaurant as a family business, and all of Harlem became her family,”said the Reverend Al Sharpton who delivered the eulogy. 

“Today we have others in business, but they see the community as something to go through on their way to somewhere,” Sharpton told mourners.  “Sylvia wasn’t trying to go somewhere else.  She was connected to us.”

From Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to the customer around the corner, Sylvia had the gift of being able to connect with everyone who walked through her doors,  and making them feel welcome.

“She would make eye contact with you no matter who you were,” said granddaughter Trenness Woods-Black.   “If you were struggling with an abuse problem or if you were royalty, she would hold onto you, look you in the eye and she would say ‘I love you.’”

There will be another funeral for Woods on Saturday in Hemingway, South Carolina where she was born, and where she will be buried next to her late husband Herbert.