Sylvia gallantly battled Alzheimer's for the past several years, but never once lost her loving smile, her family said. They added that she died peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones in her Westchester County, N.Y., home.
Sylvia's has been attracting celebrities, tourists, politicians and locals for more than 50 years. Woods opened the restaurant with her husband, Herbert, in 1962, CNN reported. Their menu featured Southern cooking staples like fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens and peach pie.
We lost a legend today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. 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.
Sylvia's has been more than a restaurant, it has been a meeting place for black America, the Daily News quoted the Rev. Al Sharpton saying.
With the restaurant's success, Woods and her family started a catering company and a nationwide line of food products, CNN said.
She also wrote two cookbooks, Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook: From Hemingway, South Carolina, To Harlem and Sylvia's Soul Food.
Woods retired from her restaurant on her 80th birthday, according to the Daily News, and passed the torch to her family.
I know I had to make it or else my mama was gonna lose her farm. So I gave it all that I had to give, Woods told Nation's Restaurant News.
People are deeply saddened by her passing, and have taken their grieving to Twitter:
@IMpurfectlyMI, tweeted, Omg.the lady that owns that soulfood restaurant in ny sylvia woods passed away...aww..sad..
@cara_volpe said, Harlem's 'Queen of Soul Food' Sylvia Woods dies at 86.
@DawnKA shared, Sylvia Woods was such a sweet woman. Loved going to Sylvia's a family favorite and she would stop by everyone's table. She will be missed.
@NYDNmfeeney tweeted, RIP Sylvia Woods of Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem.