Harlem Remembers Sylvia

In the wake of the passing of the legendary Sylvia Woods, we wanted to pay our respects and homage to Mrs. Woods by delivering messages from Harlem itself, and the community that she so greatly impacted through her wonderful restaurant, food and hospitality that goes beyond any human measurement. We, for one, want to thank her, and so would these everyday Harlemite men and women:

Rasheen, a former New York Times Journalist:

“My earliest memory was about 40 years ago. She worked hard, she worked real hard. Almost 18, 19 hours a day sometimes. The center building was the restaurant. My brother-in-law owned the space next door. But you know how they say B.B. King was the hardest working man in showbiz? Until he got sick a couple of years ago? She was the hardest working woman to own a restaurant. I don’t know how she did it, working 18 hours. And she stayed in the kitchen! She would taste the food before it went out, and made sure everybody was happy. But she was an excellent lady, always had a great personality and taught her kids real well, I respect her.”

Says Denise, a Harlem resident for over 50 years about her recollections of Sylvia:

“This was back in 1974. I remember when she had a little greasyspoon back in the day. Greasyspoon was just stools. And her food was just…soul. You know? It tastes like something that your grandma would make: the smothered pork chops and collard greens, like what granny would cook. She cooked like how she would cook for her family, or her personal family.  She’s a great mentor, and she started from nothing but turned it into a million-dollar corporation—she did her thing!!  And God blessed her.  She’s gone now, but I celebrate her life.  We all have to leave, but she was a great woman, and she gave a lot of her people jobs, which is still going on now. And late at night—everything that was left over, she would give it to the brothers and sisters that were homeless out here and feed them. A lot of people don’t know that either. Late at night, she would have her employees bring all that food in Tupperware. And I remember at a time in my life where I waited for her, at 12 o’ clock, for some of those smoked ribs! (Laughs) She was a great, great lady.  She will be missed.”

Jonathan Bodrick, a Brooklynite who relocated to Harlem and owner of vintage clothing and makeup boutique B.o.r.n., of his first experience at Sylvia’s:

“Hmm, I’d say about 42 years ago, I was about five years old. This was for my parents’ 20-year anniversary of marriage. We traveled all the way from Ocean Hill Brooklyn to Harlem to eat at Sylvia’s. And it was a major thing because we’d heard about Sylvia’s and we all were excited to try her food. Coming from a Southern background—my dad is from South Carolina like her—I was used to that Southern cuisine, but it was different to experience it outside of your mother’s kitchen. And that was exciting! Fast-forward many years later, and I’ve had this store for eight years now, who knew I’d be doing a fashion show for her, and meeting her. For me, it was like meeting royalty. It made me feel important, now, as a small business owner myself.  I was very, honored.”

These are just a few of the inspirational everyday tales of Mrs. Woods.  Please stay tuned for more to come! A very special thanks to everyone who participated in this post and thank you, Sylvia.

Photos: Diamond Bradley