Sylvia’s brings Harlem flavor to St. Petersburg

Filed under METRO

Iconic soul food restaurant opens at historic site


After nearly a month in operation, the flow of customers has yet to subside at the new Sylvia’s “Queen of Soul Food” Restaurant in South St. Petersburg.

Sylvia’s is located in the historic Manhattan Casino building, once a thriving dance hall for Blacks in the city.(PHOTO COURTESY OF POWER BROKER MAGAZINE)

Sylvia’s is located in the historic Manhattan Casino building, once a thriving dance hall for Blacks in the city.

That’s thanks to the family-to-family connection sparked by the Woods family, owners of Sylvia’s in New York, and the extended family of Florida’s Aracle Foods Corporation, which is based in St. Petersburg.

The original Sylvia’s Restaurant opened in New York’s historic village of Harlem in 1962 by world-renowned chef Sylvia Woods, who died last year. To date, this soul food institution is owned and operated by two generations of the Woods family.

The enterprise expanded over the years to include Sylvia’s Catering, Sylvia’s Food Products sold nationwide, two cookbooks, and a real estate holding company.

131213_florida01bFamily backing
While Sylvia’s children – Kenneth, Van, Bedelia and Crizette – focus on corporate growth and development – the “grands” Tren’ness, Kendra, Zaqura, Lindsey, Tamicka, Shauna and Vonet – are the engine of the operation, handling everything from public relations to front-store sales.

That same spirit drives the new St. Petersburg restaurant, which officially opened to the public on Nov. 9 with the family backing of Larry and Bettye Newsome of Aracle Foods, and a network of community leaders.

Kenneth Woods, CEO of Sylvia’s Restaurant Harlem added, “The Newsome’s represent the tradition of family ownership and community empowerment, which has been at the very foundation of our business philosophy for 51 years.

What better way to build upon the legacy of the Sylvia’s brand than to open in the historic Manhattan Casino.”

The new St. Petersburg is a licensed affiliate of Sylvia’s of Harlem. The two families are working hand in hand to perfect the Sylvia’s touch for the new venture.

Rich history
Sylvia’s St. Petersburg is the first upscale soul food eatery in the city’s history and helps fulfill a long-held dream to revive the historic Manhattan Casino, which opened in the 1920s as a dance hall for the city’s Black citizens.

The Manhattan, as some affectionately call it, hosted star performers such as James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughn.

The restaurant is located at 642 22nd Street S. in St. Petersburg. It now occupies the ground floor of the 15,000 square-foot facility. It’s top floor has become a new hot spot for special events in the community.

Chitterlings on menu
Open seven days a week, the menu offers traditional soul food favorites like chicken and waffles, smothered pork chops, and even chitterlings (served Friday through Sunday).

“We choose Sylvia’s because it’s the most famous soul food brand in America. That gave us a legacy to build on in attracting local clientele as well as international and national tourists,” said Larry Newsome.

He and his wife, Bettye, oversee day-to-day operations and the growth of Sylvia’s business lines, including catering and group sales.

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