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Follow The Leader Tren'ness

 “Follow The Leader: Building a Business That Lasts with Tren’ness Woods-Black” Transcript

Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. This is Kerry Diamond, host of Radio Cherry Bombe and editor-in-chief of Cherry Bombe Magazine. Welcome to our new mini series, Follow the Leader.

Kerry Diamond: These days everyone is hungry for more advice, especially about being an entrepreneur or finding smarter ways to run a business. For this series, we're talking to four women at different stages of their careers about how they handle key aspects of their business. For this, our final episode, we're talking about building a business to last, and in turn, building a legacy, with Tren'ness Woods-Black, the Vice-President of Communications for the historic Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem.

Kerry Diamond: Tren'ness is the granddaughter of Sylvia Woods, who, against great odds, opened the restaurant in 1962. It's an iconic institution and we're talking with Tren'ness about how this family business has evolved, yet stayed the same over its 57-year history. Let's thank Uber Eats for supporting this series. Here's my interview with Tren'ness Woods-Black.

Kerry Diamond: So Sylvia's is a family business.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: It is.

Kerry Diamond: So even though you have a specific title, I'm guessing that doesn't really encompass everything you do. So, tell us what you do for Sylvia's.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: For Sylvia's I do everything that allows guests to interact with the brand outside of the restaurant, so I manage all of our community relations, in addition to sitting on the board of NYC & Company, I sit on four other boards, yeah, I think I'm at five. And our government relations, our public relations, our media relations, interviews like today, as well as creating different platforms that allow the brand to just interact with folks outside of the restaurant, whether it's our catering or special events or hosting series like Cornbread & Conversations where it's like a culinary cultural experience to give various artists platforms. So, it's quite a bit.

Kerry Diamond: Down to picking out pink colors. Somebody has to do that, right? So, I'm hoping that everyone in our audience knows what Sylvia's is.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: I hope so.

Kerry Diamond: But for the maybe one or two people out there who haven't heard of Sylvia's, tell us how you describe what Sylvia's is all about.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Okay, so Sylvia's restaurant is known as the Queen of Soul Food. It was founded back in 1962, really great story. The American culinary story checks a lot of boxes.

Kerry Diamond: Won't go into the full story-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. The history...

Kerry Diamond: ... because it's really a remarkable story and it's all about women.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: It's all about women. I mean, literally, the restaurant is where you want to go to interface with the African-American culture. That culture that came up from South Carolina and the recipes that came along with it and landed in this great Village of Harlem, and it just creates this sense of transport back to the South without leaving Harlem.

Kerry Diamond: What drew Sylvia to Harlem?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: My grandmother, like a lot of other folks, wanted to leave the South for more job opportunity, and Harlem was just the Mecca, the Mecca of black culture. It was a place where a lot of Southerners, especially African American Southerners felt comfortable and had made homes there. So, when she set her sights on New York she knew that it had to be Harlem, and it ended up being 131st Street, a couple of blocks from what's now Sylvia Woods Way.

Kerry Diamond: And Sylvia's mom, your great-grandmother, Julia-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: ... she owned her own farm, didn't she?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. Yeah. We're heading to the farm in a couple of days.

Kerry Diamond: It's still in the family?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: It's still in the family.

Kerry Diamond: That's remarkable, because she had to mortgage it to help pay for the restaurant, right?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Can you tell us that story?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So when my grandmother, it was about maybe her 15th or 16th year working at Johnson's Luncheonette, which was like a 35-seat luncheonette owned by Mr. Johnson, who had several businesses throughout Harlem, he wanted to open another business venture and he offered the restaurant to my grandmother. She thought he was crazy, she really thought it was a joke. She said, "I am a woman of color, nonetheless, it's like the early '60s. Where do you think I'm getting this money from? You pay, you pay my salary."

Tren'ness Woods-Black: He said, "Listen, your mom has that farm in South Carolina, and I'm sure it has enough value in it." And immediately my grandmother, she said that her heart just kind of sunk because she knew that that was everything that my family had worked for, and at that point it was passed down through inheritance. And she was very nervous, but she went ahead and she asked her mom, and without hesitation, like most moms do, she went and she took the deed to a family, a wealthy family in the community, and said, "Hey." He gave her the money, which, by the way, was not enough to purchase the restaurant, but Mr. Johnson, he accepted. He accepted the offer and that was back in '62, August 1st. Johnson's Luncheonette became Sylvia's Restaurant.

Kerry Diamond: I love that she named it after herself.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Good for her.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Very powerful. I was like, "You go, girl."

Kerry Diamond: So, we have you here today to talk about legacy, and how to have a business for the long-term. I know a lot of people starting can't even imagine, I mean, Sylvia's has been in business... I'm bad at math. So you opened in 1962.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: 57.

Kerry Diamond: 57 years. I mean, a lot of people can't even imagine having one location that's thriving for that long.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, it's hard to say in one sentence what the secret is, but let's start to talk about that. What's been the secret?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Authenticity. Authenticity and relationship with community. Those things have been, those principles I should say, have been passed down each generation of my family. Community in South Carolina built our farm and my great-grandmother's midwife business, and because of that land, as I said, my grandmother was able to purchase the restaurant and made it a place for all of those who were migrating up North to come and experience a hug from their mother. That's what the restaurant is. And it became, very quickly, a place where people felt that they weren't even eating at a restaurant. They felt that they were at home. Wonderful conversations would be had, serious meetings would be had, and still to this day it's that presence. And having that strong connection to the community and paying attention to what the community needed, is what's given us longevity.

Kerry Diamond: Let's drill into the authenticity part that you mentioned, because that's not easy.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: No.

Kerry Diamond: You've got this really like living, breathing thing that is your restaurant, and people get very attached to things. This is one thing I've learned having owned a restaurant over the years. People want to come in and when they order, whether it's your Smothered Chicken or whatever their favorite dish is at Sylvia's, they want it to taste exactly the same it was-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: ... the last time they came there and the time before that. So you can't mess with the menu that much.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: No. No. And what we've learned, as the decades have gone on, is, once you know better you do better.

Kerry Diamond: What do you mean by that?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: What I mean by that is that heart disease in our community, very rampant. Diabetes, a lot of things that are associated to our core customer base, and we knew that we needed to do some changes. So we really made our items over a lot healthier as the years have gone on, but we were smart enough, and thankfully we have such a good palate that we were able to swap out certain ingredients to not compromise the flavor that everyone was accustomed to, but to make it healthy.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Like, we started cooking with zero trans fat before it was mandated in New York City, so when the mandate happened, we were able to be spokespeople for that movement because we have been doing it already. And my grandmother, she was very... she paid attention, a lot. So when customers would come in and they would order double starches and things of that nature, she would be like, "Okay, you might not want to do that." Not every day, but just keeping those changes. But hands down, Sylvia's will never open its doors without having Down Home Southern Fried Chicken, our world famous talked about Bar-B-Que Ribs, collard greens are a must. They are the vegetable of the South. It's like, "Oh, yeah, and your vegetable is collard greens." And your meat could switch around, but your vegetable needs to be collard greens.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So we have like two options on our Collard Greens. You have traditional, that's cooked with pork, and we have a vegetarian that's completely made with spices. So it's things like that where we kind of make a compromise so you have your die-hards who want to sit literally in the same seat. When I say in the same seat, and they want to eat the same meal every time they come. So, it's working that balance. And it's worked for us. It's worked.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We have added like grilled items, so some of the things that you can get fried or smothered, now you can get them grilled, and we've added salmon and I would say that that probably was the most popular addition that we added to the menu, and people just... They want their Sylvia's. When people come to Sylvia's, they're not calorie counting.

Kerry Diamond: So, also in terms of the physical location, you've obviously expanded the size over the years. So how do you also change the physical space so the people... oh, sorry, was that a sensitive one? So that the regulars still feel that it's still an authentic experience from what they knew.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We have now expanded the restaurant. We started out with 35 seats. We opened our first dining room in the late '80s which was the Uptown Bar, which is now our Red Room. So that was the first dining room. And then we went to the opposite direction of the counter. It was called the Tropical Room. Now it's called the Carolina Room. And then we went back in the opposite direction, and mind you, while we're doing these expansions, we're purchasing the property-

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, we're going to get to that. That's very smart.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: ... yeah, so then the Green Room. So, making sure, we just did a little spruce up because we really didn't have a choice, and we sprung a leak, there was something going on with the ceiling, so now the counter looks a bit different and we were so nervous. We were just like, "Oh, my God, it's the heartbeat," and you really don't want to mess with the heartbeat. So what we did was, "Well, maybe we'll expose the brick." So now the brick is exposed, which is something that I think is unique to Manhattan, unique to Harlem. Kept the counter, of course.

Kerry Diamond: You've also earned the trust of your regulars over the years, though. So, I'm sure that they trust you when you've got these tweaks that you have to make.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Oh, not only do they trust us, but they become our partners that are not so silent.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, tell us about that part.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So, they'll let us know. "Hey, I want you to do X, Y and Z." Or, "When are you going to put..." There was a picture that was on the wall of someone, you know, "Can you put that picture back." Or, "I notice that you've changed this, can you..." And, it just doesn't go to the restaurant. I mean, my customers, they're like, "Oh, you look really happy. You've put on a lot of weight, but don't gain any more, okay?" I'm like...

Kerry Diamond: It's so funny. When I had my places, I mean, people... and let's be clear, I did not own any places that were world famous, like you do, so I know how often I got stopped on the street around the restaurant, about everything. So, how do you even walk down the street near the restaurant?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: It's very funny because my husband, he'll say, "What do you want to do? Do you want to take the joyous route? It's going to take us longer if we walk." I'm only literally 10 blocks away from the restaurant, "Or, shall we jump on a train or jump on a Uber?" And I do enjoy walking down the street. It gives me a really great sense of just how small and how special the Village of Harlem is, so from seeing our regular customers to greeting all of the shop owners along the way, I'm always stopping and having a conversation.

Kerry Diamond: So this goes to what you brought up with community.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: So you can't just open a restaurant, expect to be there for the long haul if you're not-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Absolutely not.

Kerry Diamond: ... a major part of community.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: Walk us through some of the different things that Sylvia's has done over the year to really be part of the fabric of that neighborhood.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Well, when we started, when my grandmother started the restaurant before I was born, she would get up extra early and she would put on a big pot of grits, and smothered meat. Lots of times it was smothered chicken, and she would open the doors to the community, so it might have been people who were struggling with drug addiction or homeless for a different reason, mental illness, and she would feed everyone, every day, first.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: I think that's where it kind of started, that Sylvia's wasn't just in business to be a for-profit business, but to really become part of the fabric that is Harlem. So, making sure that we not only provided a place for people to celebrate and to be nourished, but for people to be employed. And for over 40 years we were the largest minority employer in Harlem. I mean, for a restaurant to be in that category is just still mind boggling to me.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: The true testimony to the relationship that Sylvia's has with the community could be seen from the Harlem riots, when literally everything was burned to the left or to the right of the restaurant, except for the restaurant. And what my grandmother did was, she went in the kitchen and she cooked everything. She cooked everything and she opened up the doors, because the grocery stores were completely torched. Everyone's hearts was just very, very heavy after King was assassinated. So, that relationship has just trickled until this day we still feed anyone. If you're hungry and you don't have money, you can always go to Sylvia's and you can just say to the cashier, "I'm hungry. Can I have something to eat?" And we feed people every single day.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: And we wanted to formalize our giving, and also our commitment to education and the importance of education, so when my grandfather passed away in 2001, we decided to start the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Scholarship Foundation, and since then we sent over 130 kids to college and we've awarded over $475,000 for kids from Harlem and our surrounding communities to be able to go to school. That's the one that gets me choked up every time. It's just-

Kerry Diamond: That's a lot of people's lives changed.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. And the kids are amazing. They've all gone on to have wonderful degrees and careers, and what's really beautiful is they have their own community where they mentor the new students that come in. So every year when we select the students, we have an amazing advisory board, my grandmother dubbed them her "Angels", so that Angels, they're combing through applications and reading the essays. And then we get together once we select the recipients and we have dinner with their family, our family, and some past recipients, and we really get to know each other. And it works. It works. It really helps to make sure that when people have success from the community, that they come back and they don't forget.

Kerry Diamond: Let's thank Uber Eats for supporting Follow the Leader.

Kerry Diamond: Hey, Bombesquad, Savvy Food Entrepreneurs are as selective about their ingredients as they are about food delivery, which is one of many reasons why they partner with Uber Eats. In addition to the reliable delivery, Uber Eats is a delivery platform that allows users to discover new restaurants, so a smaller business gets reach and awareness benefits. If you're ready to learn more and get started, visit for more information. That's

Kerry Diamond: Let's return to my conversation with Tren'ness Woods-Black of Sylvia's Restaurant.

Kerry Diamond: What was Sylvia like as a business person?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Oh, Sylvia was like a natural-born business person. I mean, you talk about just an all around bad ass is the only thing I can say. I mean, she started her very first business when she was 16, which was a farmhouse hair salon in South Carolina, and then she came to New York, and you know that story. As a business person, she was very frugal. She was very frugal, she did not rent any equipment. She purchased all of her equipment, and she didn't believe in credit. She didn't believe in credit. And she developed these wonderful relationships with all of her vendors, so a lot of our vendors today, they've been with us for several decades and their businesses have grown from small business to large businesses, and they attribute a lot of that success to the relationship that they had to my grandmother.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So she was very, very savvy with finances. She managed her books herself, and she also had amazing relationship with her families of staff. I mean, we still have women that worked alongside my grandmother that still work at the restaurant today. And I think that sense of family and just respect, you know, if you come to the restaurant you can look to the left or to the right, you're going to see someone with my last name that's working just as hard as our staff family.

Kerry Diamond: But how amazing to have this combination of newcomers, family and folks who have that institutional knowledge.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: What a combination that is.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: It's great, and I really think that's what makes it special. And we try to instill in our staff that, "Hey, you guys are just much invested into this business as we are, and we want you to stay here as long as you like, or go on and blaze your own trail, create your own legacy. Whatever it is, just do your best. Understand that you're representing not just the restaurant, not just yourself, but a legacy." And I think when people feel proud about the business that they work for, it just makes it all the sweeter.

Kerry Diamond: So let's talk about real estate.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: So, the family owns real estate.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us about the real estate holdings and what that has to do with Sylvia's.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Well, thank God we own our real estate because I'm sure you've had a couple of our co-board members or other restaurateurs on who are struggling here in New York, commercial rent taxes and the list just goes on and on and on. It's pretty scary. A lot of those issues that are crushing our businesses, we're kind of safe from.

Kerry Diamond: When was the property purchased? Was that under Sylvia?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. The properties were purchased under my grandmother. The last property that was acquired was, I want to say, I can't remember if... My dad and his siblings, together, purchased that property, but we have a real estate holding company. And so now we have 332 and I guess that would be 334, it's like a lot, and we have 318, maybe-

Kerry Diamond: Good for you, is what I say. And that's why it's called Sylvia Woods Way, right?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. That's why it's called Sylvia Woods Way. And the reason why my grandmother started purchasing the business, we weren't looking to be a real estate family, although we did have and do have an appreciation for the benefit of being a land owner, because-

Kerry Diamond: Right. Like your great-grandmother-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Exactly.

Kerry Diamond: ... on the farm, yeah.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: But we wanted to control the environment. There was a lot happening when the restaurant opened in Harlem, and it wasn't very pretty. So, the only way that we could control what was happening is try to gain control, literally, and shape the type of activity that was going to be taking place to the left and to the right of us. So that's how the real estate came about.

Kerry Diamond: Now you also haven't overexpanded. Like, there's not a Sylvia's in every airport, in every major city across the country. Why did you make the decision to just really focus on where you are?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Well, one of the biggest reasons was that my grandmother really did not want to leave Harlem, I mean, let alone leave the restaurant.

Kerry Diamond: But I'm sure you had people come to you with offers of licensing locations-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Oh, absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: ... and you probably still do.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. Yeah. That's a common occurrence. It's almost daily. We did have a restaurant in Atlanta, and after like some tooth pulling, as my grandmother would say, we were invited by the Mayor to open in downtown Atlanta, which would now be considered like an anchor business to revitalize the neighborhood. So we were there for a couple of years, and Atlanta's hope was that with Sylvia's coming down and some select other businesses from grocery stores to other beautifications, that things would really take off in that particular area.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Well, it didn't happen, but we did have a wonderful run. We also have a licensing arrangement at Kennedy Airport, and that was really awesome. I mean, we got really great write-ups. Our sales were through the roof. We were one of the best performing businesses in that new terminal, and then 9/11 happened, and it just changed the travelers' access.

Kerry Diamond: You were also a little ahead of your time, because I feel like, restaurant-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah, we were.

Kerry Diamond: ... dining wasn't even really a thing back then, and now it is.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. Like, it's nuts. It's crazy. I mean, we would get calls at the restaurant all the time for people trying to make reservations at the airport, and we were like, "No, it's at the air... You've got to get a plane ticket." But some people were just trying to figure out, like, "How can I just get to the airport?" And there was traffic coming in, and then 9/11 happened and all of the businesses that were there unfortunately closed, but during that time we focused on building our Food Product Company, which was started by my uncle Van, and with the food products we just realized that a lot of people just really loved our original sauce, which is a Bar-B-Que sauce but it's not really a Bar-B-Que sauce.

Kerry Diamond: You know, explain that.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So, the Sylvia Sassy Sauce has this really interesting consistency which is thin. It's not thick like you would find in Texas and other places. It's more of like a vinegar base that you would find in South Carolina. In the Carolinas we like that vinegar barbecue... it's thin but depending on the temperature and how you use it, you get that nice little crust. So the firefighters would always come in and want to purchase like gallons, and they would in with their gallons or Tupperware. So my uncle Van was like, "You know what? We need to really, really sell this." So, the original, like our Sassy Sauce was the first of our Sylvia's Food Product line, and, let's see, we're like over 23 years.

Kerry Diamond: So, how big is the Sylvia's Product Line today?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Well, today, our SKUs have grown to almost 40, like 40, and we've been doing some revamping because we've had everything that you can think of, and of course with just the way that products are packaged and, again, once you know better you do better. So there's certain things that are still consistently part of the brand. Like our spices are amazing. We have a whole lot of spices. We have a Fried Chicken Rub, we have a Steak Rub, we have a Rib Rub, we have a Lemon Pepper that I probably use every single day. We have a Secret Seasoning that's completely salt free, so we have this whole line of spices. Coarse Black Pepper, Hot Sizzling Spice, then we have our Sylvia's Hot Sauce, the Triple Strength Hot Sauce, and of course our pouches which are still doing really, really well.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We have cornbread pouch, we have a Peach Cobbler mix, we have a Apple Crisp, and we had canned vegetables, but we're moving away and really paying attention to what our customer base is looking for.

Kerry Diamond: What's your distribution?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Oh, the Fried Chicken Mix. The Fried Chicken Mix?

Kerry Diamond: Don't forget the Fried Chicken Mix.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: How could I forget that? And the Fried Fish Mix.

Kerry Diamond: What's your distribution?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: National? We're nationally distributed in the majority of grocery stores. There's been so many changes on the food product side in grocery stores. Everyone's just being swallowed up by each other, so that's a really interesting endeavor to manage. And so, online presence. Online presence is good. So we're hoping that with this new decade we're able to bring about a Sylvia's Food Product 2.0 that really just answers some questions, or I like to say some cravings for soul food enthusiasts. And not just soul food. Like, I mean, it's become-

Kerry Diamond: Everybody today.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah, it's become everyone today. So that's pretty cool.

Kerry Diamond: Now you also have cookbooks.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We do.

Kerry Diamond: Two cookbooks?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We have two cookbooks, and-

Kerry Diamond: Did your grandmother write both of them?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes. Yes. Not only did my grandmother write both of them, but my entire family got involved with the last cookbook, and we have recipes from aunts and uncles and cousins, and some people that are still not with us, so that was really special for my family to be able to go back to Hemingway, South Carolina, go to the church and everyone brought out their best dishes. And that's how we picked what made it into the book, and it has cool stories that go along with it. My hope is for, very soon, to be able to create a new cookbook with more recipes as well as stories.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We have amazing archives, photos that just detail each decade up until present, and there's been some really cool things that we've created for our catering menu. That's where the flexibility comes in.

Kerry Diamond: We didn't talk about the catering side of the business yet. So you don't have a lot of locations but you do have a catering business.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes, we do have a catering business, and with the catering business, that's where we're able to really get creative and we can sit down with a client and figure out what their needs are, and that's, to me, the most fun. And that's when I can put on a different hat, and I'm like, "Oh, why don't we create this. I think these flavors might go nicely with that." And so, you have that flexibility because the client has input and you're able to showcase, so that's where you can really get to see a broader sense of the Sylvia's food palate, so to speak.

Kerry Diamond: So you've brought up so many good points for our listeners who maybe have their own business-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: I hope so.

Kerry Diamond: ... or hoping to open a business one day. So, it's authenticity-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: ... community-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: ... are two of the big ones. Not overexpanding-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: No.

Kerry Diamond: ... but expanding in smart ways.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: So it's not necessarily additional locations but it's the catering, the product line, the cookbooks, so you can make money by expanding-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Absolutely.

Kerry Diamond: ... in other areas. And then being smart about real estate, which is hard.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So hard. It's so hard, because it's literally a separate business, especially in New York. If you can purchase the land, the building, then go ahead and do it. My hope for the restaurant industry in New York is for us to just, I don't know, women, we just need to get together. Women, we need to get together, we need to start... I want to see more women restaurant groups. That's what we need.

Kerry Diamond: Talk to me more about that. You're the first one to ever say that on the show.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes. So, I feel that we've done a bit of a disservice by thinking that, "Oh, being what I like to say is like a solopreneur is the way to go." But the truth of the matter is, if you take a look at the good old boys club and you see the success that... and when I say success, success looks like different things for different people, but we want to break it down to brass tacks and say that, "Oh, I want to be able to have different genres or revenue centers and things of that nature." We need to get together and open up businesses collectively.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So, instead of having 100% of the profit which brings in 100,000% of headache, look at it a different way and say, "Hey, we're smart. We love cooking. We love food. We love putting smiles on people's faces. Could you imagine if we got together like the boys did?" And we looked at different locations and different concepts that we know will work for women and families and-

Kerry Diamond: Well, it comes down to women having more money and investing in female-led businesses, right.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Were there any pieces of advice we didn't cover? I mean, I'm sure you see a lot of small restaurants out there and you think to yourself, "Oh, I wish they were just doing this," or, "Maybe they should consider that." Is there anything else you can think of?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: I will say that it's really important to know what you're selling and to just be clear and not allow trends to dictate that. And you also need to understand the neighborhood that you're in, because those are the people that are going to keep you in business, especially if you're a place that may have certain notoriety or maybe you get a lot of traffic from people outside of the community.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: You want to make sure that you have those regulars that you treat really, really well and you listen to them because that's who has made you who you are, and that's who's going to be with you when it's snowy, or for whatever reason you don't have an influx of folks traveling from different places. That's my big tip. And rock your baby. As my grandmother would say, "You have to rock your baby. Don't let anybody else rock your baby."

Kerry Diamond: Wait. What does that mean?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: That means you have to stay in your business. You have to be there. You literally have to be there. You have to know what's going. You can't... like you wouldn't leave your child with a stranger. And people leave their businesses.

Kerry Diamond: I always wonder how these folks open dozens of locations around the world.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You have to be present because no one is going to rock your baby the way you rock your baby. And I'm thankful that, in my generation, there's 18, and the generation after me there's probably seven, and we're already into that fourth generation. If you go to Sylvia's, there's going to be at least a minimum of two generations in the business that are there, and that's going to be on any given time.

Kerry Diamond: So the baby gets a lot of rocking in this case.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: The baby gets a lot, yeah, and passed around.

Kerry Diamond: So you gave us a few hints as to some new projects you'd love to do. Another cookbook.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: You're going to be tweaking some of the product that you offer.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Anything else on the horizon you can talk about?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes. So, I'm launching this new series, it's called Cornbread & Conversation. So I started Cornbread & Conversation after my grandmother passed away in 2012 just as an opportunity to tell the stories of people in my community that have been trailblazers. And my dad, he really wanted it to be more of like a lecture series, and I wanted it to be more of a dining experience. Like, "Oh, wouldn't it be lovely if we just decorated the table this way and had this conversation that was a little bit more loose?"

Tren'ness Woods-Black: So, for February, I'm launching the new Cornbread & Conversations for the new decade which will allow different artists, whether they're performance artists, wonderful authors. We have great authors, to just come to the house that Sylvia built, which is our corner location, Sylvia's Also, and you'll get to meet different authors, award-winning authors or an artist, you know, different visual and painter/sculptors mixed in with performance artists and actors and actresses-

Kerry Diamond: It sounds wonderful.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. It's-

Kerry Diamond: How can you buy tickets?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Well, they can follow the restaurant. I'll be giving a update the 1st of the year, and so that's what I'm really excited about, these cultural experiences, very intimate, so definitely look out for the tickets because I think I want to limit it to 50 because I want the conversation to be had around the table, and just folks to walk away with like, "Wow, that was beautiful. That was beautiful."

Kerry Diamond: Oh, it sounds great. Okay, so you're going to have Cornbread & Conversations so people can visit, maybe, if they're lucky enough to get a ticket to that.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: But for everybody else, if they just want to visit Sylvia's...

Tren'ness Woods-Black: If they just want to visit Sylvia's they can come any day.

Kerry Diamond: You don't take reservations.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We don't take reservations unless you're like 10 or more, but I believe online we're now a little bit more flexible. We a little bit more flexible so you might be able to get a reservation during the week at different times. We're open all day. We close at 10:30 at night. The only day that we're closed is Christmas day, so you can eat with us all the time. You can get our faves anytime like after 11:00 o'clock in the morning. You can come in or like our breakfast is really great. So just walk in, walk in or you can go online and make a reservation, but a reservation is not required

Kerry Diamond: What are some dishes you absolutely can't miss? Especially if it's your first visit?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: If it's your first visit then you have to have Fried Chicken. And you can do a Chicken and Rib combo, so that covers that, and you have to have collard greens because you need to eat your vegetables. So you can have Collard Greens, cornbread comes with every meal, complimentary, so that's like... You know, it's like dessert before...

Kerry Diamond: You've a lot of good sides.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah. Lots of good sides.

Kerry Diamond: I'm a mac 'n cheese girl-

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Are you?

Kerry Diamond: ... and you've got mac 'n cheese.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes. But my favorite dish is Smothered Port Chops. I really like Smothered Pork Chops, a lot. So, brown gravy, onions, bell peppers, pork chops been seasoned, fried, loved on, and then doused in gravy and stewed, and you can break it with your fork. Lima beans, rice, potato salad. Our potato salad is so good.

Kerry Diamond: I'm so hungry right now.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Now I'm hungry.

Kerry Diamond: You also have a good dessert menu.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: We do. We have our world-famous Peach Cobbler which is really yummy, and it's cute because people come in and when they order it, especially if you're in the know, you're like, "Oh, can I have extra crust?" They want that extra crust, and the same with the Banana Pudding-

Kerry Diamond: And you can ask for that?

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Okay.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah, but the regulars, they're like, "Oh, I want more crust than peaches," and some people, "I want more peaches than crust." And Banana Pudding, we have a family that literally, they're into the third generation that's been eating with us, shout out to Whitney. When she comes in to get Banana Pudding, she's like, "Oh, can I get extra cookies?" So, literally, it's like... So, then I have to go in the back and find the cookies and crumble up the cookies and put it in... But that's just what they like.

Kerry Diamond: That's called customer service, people, and that's how you stay in business for 57 years.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Pain.

Kerry Diamond: Exactly.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: All right, everybody. You know what you need to do in the New Year.

Tren'ness Woods-Black: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Get up to Sylvia's.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for this episode of Follow the Leader. Thank you the Tren'ness Woods-Black of Sylvia's Restaurant for sharing her story and her family story with all of us. And thank you to Uber Eats for supporting this Radio Cherry Bombe mini series. Make sure to catch the other Follow the Leader episodes. We talk finance matters with Umber Ahmad of Mah Ze Dahr Bakery, creating a culture with Diana Daouheung of Black Seed Bagels, and expanding your business with Amelie Kang of MáLà Project. Follow the Leader was produced and edited by Jess Zeidman of Cherry Bombe and recorded at CDM Sound Studios and Argot Studios in New York City.

Kerry Diamond: Thanks for listening, everybody. You are the Bombe.