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'Queen of Soul Food' Sylvia Woods dead at 86

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:42 PM EDT, Thu July 19, 2012
"Queen of Soul Food," Sylvia Woods died Thursday. She was 86.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Woods' internationally known restaurant has drawn customers from all walks of life
  • Sylvia's restaurant opened on Lenox Avenue in 1962
  • "We lost a legend today," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says in a statement
  • Woods' success led to the launch of a catering company and national food products line

New York (CNN) -- Legendary restaurateur Sylvia Woods, known internationally as the "Queen of Soul Food," died Thursday, according to a statement issued by her family. She was 86.

"Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer's for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile," her family said. She died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones at her Westchester home.

Woods' world-renowned Harlem establishment, Sylvia's, has drawn celebrities, politicians, tourists and locals alike to enjoy its famed soul food for more than 50 years.

Woods and her husband, Herbert, opened the Lenox Avenue restaurant in 1962, featuring Southern cooking staples like cornbread, collard greens and fried chicken.

"We lost a legend today," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "For more than 50 years, New Yorkers have enjoyed Sylvia's and visitors have flocked to Harlem to get a table. In her words, the food was made with 'a whole lot of love' and generations of family and friends have come together at what became a New York institution."

Following the success of her restaurant, Woods and her family developed Sylvia's Catering Corp. and a nationwide line of Sylvia's Food Products.

Woods also penned two celebrated cookbooks, "Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook: From Hemingway, South Carolina, To Harlem" and "Sylvia's Soul Food."

Woods announced her retirement from her soul food empire on her 80th birthday, her family said, passing the torch to her children and grandchildren.

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