HARLEM — The plan to name 126th Street at Lenox Avenue after the late soul food restaurateur Sylvia Woods had been in the works years before she passed away in 2012. But those who attended her street renaming ceremony Wednesday said Woods, known as the "Queen of Soul Food," long ago become synonymous with all of Harlem.
"Famous people become well known. Great people make things bigger than their own name and personality," activist and talk show host the Rev. Al Sharpton said Wednesday morning at ceremony renaming the street "Sylvia P. Woods Way."
Four generations of the Woods family were surrounded by more than 100 well-wishers as the sign was unveiled.
Woods opened her now-iconic restaurant at Lenox Avenue near 126th Street almost 52 years ago with her late husband Herbert Woods after securing a loan from her mother, Julia Pressley, a farmer and midwife who mortgaged her farm to loan money for the purchase.
The restaurant became world famous for serving up southern classics such as fried chicken, collard greens, barbecue ribs and corn bread. Busloads of tourists can now be spotted pulling up to the restaurant where locals still stop in for breakfast. Sylvia's products are distributed in a national food line and her recipes fill soul food cookbooks.
Rep. Charles Rangel recalled working as a lawyer for the Woods' and seeing Mr. Woods unload fresh collard greens and vegetables from his truck and realizing how much hard work their operation took.
"People from all over the world ask: 'Do you know Sylvia's?" said Rangel.
After she died on July 19, 2012 at her home in Westchester following a long battle with Alzheimer's, Woods was feted by some of the world's biggest stars at two different services — including one where President Bill Clinton spoke.
"She was a young woman from South Carolina who became a large part of Harlem after her vision and dream came true," said Woods' granddaughter Shauna Woods, 35, a teacher and manager at the restaurant.
Shauna Woods is credited by her family with doggedly pursuing the street renaming since 2007. She coordinated with the local community board, City Hall and gathered hundreds of signatures of support from area residents.
"This was the placed she loved and gave as a gift to the entire community," said Shauna Woods in explaining her persistence.
Woods' granddaughter, Tren'ness Woods-Black noted the restaurant's commitment to Harlem in the form of over 100 employees, many of whom have worked at the restaurant 15 years or longer. The Sylvia and Herbert Woods Endowment Scholarship Fund has sent almost 100 disadvantaged students to college.