I first met Sylvia about 15 years ago when she was being honored by the Black Culinarian Alliance at Tavern on the Green. Her words that day inspired me to want to move to Harlem and become part of this vibrant community. From the first day we opened Red Rooster, down the block from Sylvia’s, this iconic and gracious woman and her family were right there next to us, always providing us with support and encouragement.
I loved sitting at the bar in Sylvia’s, watching the mix of people day in and day out. Of course there were the names like President Obama, Al Sharpton and Caroline Kennedy, and there were the tourists who made the trip up for a perfect plate of fried chicken. And then there were the Harlemites who made Sylvia’s their second home. Sylvia taught me the importance of hiring from within the community and how important it was to understand our neighbors. One of my favorite days of the year was when the restaurant held their annual free breakfast—Sylvia opened her doors to everyone and let them know they were as important to her as the celebrities and politicians who broke cornbread at her table.
I aspired to have Rooster be just like that. Sylvia Woods was hugely inspirational and she did Harlem proud. She’s the one who did it right and her family have been the best possible neighbors for the Red Rooster family. I applaud the restaurant for their upcoming 50th year anniversary and wish them 50 more. I deeply mourn her passing at the age of 86 and our thoughts are with her family. Her legacy remains at the forefront for so many business owners, not just here in Harlem, but for everyone who aspired to be like her. We love you, Sylvia, and thank you for teaching us how to be a part of this integral community.
You will be greatly missed.