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Mount Vernon's Soulful Sylvia Woods Dies at 86

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – The world lost the reigning “Queen of Soul Food” Thursday when Sylvia Woods, founder of the Harlem soul food eatery Sylvia’s Restaurant, died at her Mount Vernon home, according to a statement from her family. She was 86.

The statement said Woods had “gallantly battled Alzheimer’s for the past several years,” and that, despite her battle, she never lost her smile.

Sylvia’s Restaurant is a culinary landmark that serves iconic Southern dishes, including fried chicken, house-made cornbread and collard greens.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Woods “a legend” in a statement on Thursday.

Born in Hemingway, S.C., Woods met the man she would eventually marry, Herbert, when she was 11 years old. The two were smitten with each other from the start, and started planning for a future together in New York City. According to the restaurant’s website, the young couple married in 1944 and moved to Harlem, where she found work as a waitress at Johnson’s luncheonette. Sometime after, thanks to her “entrepreneurial spirit,” and her mother’s willingness to mortgage her South Carolina farm, Woods was able to buy Johnson’s luncheonette, which she transformed into Sylvia’s Restaurant, where the likes of Diana Ross, the Rev. Al Sharpton and President Obama have dined.

Her family has requested that, rather than flowers, those who want to honor her passing make donations to the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Foundation, c/o Sylvia's Restaurant 328 Lenox Avenue New York, NY 10027. The foundation works to send kids from Harlem to college.

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