HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — Residents danced in the streets in Harlem all day Monday in celebration of a milestone birthday for Sylvia’s, the restaurant famous for its soul food.

Sylvia’s first opened its doors 60 years ago. Since then, it’s become a part of the fabric of Harlem.

Over the years, political heavyweights, star athletes, celebrities and everyday New Yorkers have sat down for meals. To this day, the restaurant remains family owned. Kenneth Woods is one of Sylvia’s four children.

“I grew up here, from peeling potatoes to cleaning fish, to running the kitchen,” said Woods.  “I went away to college, came back and the rest is history.”

Syvia’s image is everywhere in the restaurant and her spirit is still the heart of the business.

“My mom was such an amazing human being. She loved people and that’s what really made this restaurant, is community,” said Woods. “When you came to Sylvia’s, it was like she invited you to her home.”

Mayor Eric Adams echoed the sentiment. He stopped by during the day to take part in the celebratory atmosphere.  

“This is not a restaurant, it has transformed into a family,” said Adams. “Some of the most significant things that have happened in Harlem, really in Black New York, have taken place here.”

Sylvia Woods opened her restaurant in 1962 and it has remained in this same location at 328 Malcom X Blvd. (Lenox Ave.)  One of Sylvia’s grandsons, Marcus Woods, who also happens to be the executive chef, told us the most popular item on the menu.

“My favorite dish is the smothered chicken because that’s what she used to make for us in the mornings growing up,” remembers Marcus fondly. “At the end of the day, I stick to the recipes. I stick to what my grandmother really told me, and I feel like it always comes out and translates the right way.”

The family recipes date back to the 1900s. The business has now branched out to merchandise, including bottled sauces and cookbooks. During the pandemic, the restaurant donated food to residents in the community, adding to the loyal customer base.

“The food is good, let’s just start there, it’s a good vibe, it’s culture, this is a legendary spot,” said Shajuan Andrews. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid; I’m a Harlem native.”

Sylvia Woods passed away in 2012, at the age of 86.  She had four children, 17 grandchildren and dozens of great-grandchildren, many of whom are currently involved in the operation of the restaurant.

“We always said faith, family and community that’s our mantra,” said Kenneth Woods.