Restaurant of Harlem, located at 328 Lenox Avenue, New York,
NY is owned by The Woods Family which consists of her late
husband Herbert and Sylvia Woods, their four children, Van,
Bedelia, Kenneth, Crizette and a third generation of grandchildren.
Sylvia's Restaurant, the world famous African-American owned
business was originally established in 1962 with a seating
capacity of 35 people. Today, Sylvia's occupies most
of a city block with a seating capacity of 450 people.
Although Sylvia's Restaurant opened with only $18,000 it has
grown to a million dollar landmark. "Hard work,
smart work and blessings has brought the restaurant where
it is now," says the family.
Sylvia Woods started as a waitress in 1955 in this same restaurant
at what was called Johnsons Luncheonette. In 1962 the
owners sold her the because they thought she had the potential
to manage the business. Ms. Woods' mother had to mortgage
the family farm in Hemingway, S.C., to make it happen, naturally
they didn't want to lose the farm but her mother had
faith in her.
The family continues to have faith in the business.
Sylvia's Restaurant is family owned and is staying that way.
Bedelia manages the restaurant catering and banquet facilities,
Kenneth is Director of Operations, while Van has speared
headed the aggressive expansion of the business.
Since the start of the restaurant there have been many sub
divisions to the enterprise. There is the cookbooks,
the beauty products, food products and of course new Franchises
in Atlanta and in New York's John F. Kennedy International
Airport. Recently I spoke to Sylvia
and Van Woods ant they told me a bit about the expansion
of the business. "We started the cookbook because
a lot of people ask, "How do you fix this," and
"How do you make that," they always want to know
more about the Southern style of cooking so we put it
together in a book. We met a good literary agent and
it was perfect from there." Sylvia's has two cookbooks
published by William Morrow Company, Sylvia's Soul Food Cookbook,
published in 1992 and Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook,
published 1999. "We started the food products in
the early 90's. You have Aunt Jemima ad Uncle Ben on
products that aren't even African American owned so we felt
we have to have African American faces on African American
products. We have Beauty and Skin care products which
have been African-American owned since the days of Madame
C. J. Walker but, black folks have since lost, that's why
we decided to get involved with that." Sylvia's
beauty products consist of two brands, Sylvia's Beauty &
Skin Care Products; hair and skin products, and African Vision
Products; hair and skin products with shea butter and
Also part of the family enterprise are Dr. Woods products,
Sylvia's products and soon to be included Sylvia's Ice Tea,
lemonade and even seafood and frozen food. They intend
on increasing their food products and coming out with another
cookbook really soon. Look out for the life story of
"We will continue to be the best we can be to keep the
people coming, keep them happy and give others hope that it
can be done," Sylvia told us. The next Franchise
should be in Jacksonville, Florida.
Sylvia's Restaurant has been around for 42 years. The
lists of people who have stopped by to get a bite include
Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki
and of course regular everyday people. Sylvia's Restaurant
is featured in almost every conversation about Harlem and
the restaurant has been featured in the new book "The
Spirit of Harlem."
If your opening a business the best advice you can get is
from Ms. Woods. She simply breaks it down, "make
sure it's something you enjoy doing, if you have to deal with
the public make sure you love people. Through the years
I've seen people in business who seem like they don't like
people or get an attitude when people come in, but you really
have to love people to deal with people and I Love People."
The Woods family secret to success is even more simple, "Love,
Family and hard Work; Love of Family, Love of Friends, Customers
and Love of Work."