It is interesting how a person, mentioned in the last sentence of a 1979 restaurant review by Gael Greene, can turn out to be a culinary queen and icon 33 years later.
Sylvia Woods was that person. Amidst racial intensity she’d been serving food for the soul, from the soul, to Harlem and beyond. For this reason, she was celebrated today in a Cupcake Parade celebrating her 50th Jubilee and Sylvia's annual Community Day breakfast. Harlem, as it should be, played the host with the help of famed baker master Raven “Cake Man Raven” Dennis III in front of her restaurant. Different nationalities were in abundance among a mix of suits, monkstraps, sneakers, jeans, hairs, straight, braided, locked—the artsy, the touristy and last but not least, the foodies.
Magic markers were no wallflowers either. “Thank you’s” were all over tablecloths and posters.
It was great to see someone who appreciated everyone else and their business, be appreciated. Conversation took place underneath brooding thunderstorms that held their breath over granite tables (even the weather recognized her moment). And proving that Sylvia's legacy will live on, past recipients of the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Scholarship Fund took to the stage to honor the woman who helped raise $250,000 over the past 10 years so that these students could go on to attend NYU, Columbia, FIT, and so many other prestigious schools. (The fund has awarded 77 scholarships and hope to help even more during their annual gala on October 28th. To donate or learn more, click here.)
The likes of her hadn’t been seen in Harlem maybe since Madame C.J. Walker, but Sylvia has paved a road that will allow the next great businesswoman of color to stake her claim sooner in the future than later. And that little girl was there, somewhere in the crowd of child smiles, waves and shimmies to live music.
Upon leaving the restaurant in ’79, Gael Greene gave her compliments to the chef, who replied with a “Thank you.” On behalf of Harlem, Red Rooster and Marcus Samuelsson, we’d like to say the same to Sylvia.
Ken Woods, Sylvia's eldest son, who will now take the reigns of his mother's New York landmark.