B. Smith — the prolific and influential New York cookbook author, television host, restaurateur, and lifestyle personality — died on Saturday, the Times reports. The cause of death was early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which Smith had been battling since she was diagnosed in her mid-50’s. She was 70 years old.
Smith was well-known in part for launching a long-running, successful group of restaurants, starting with the eponymous B. Smith in the Theater District in 1986. The restaurant was an instant hot spot for affluent black New Yorkers, according to the Times. “Her restaurants are the black ‘21’ clubs, the places to see and be seen,’’ Lawrence Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, told the Times back in 1999. While Sylvia Woods was putting her soul food institution on the map in Harlem, Smith was the first to popularize a similar concept downtown — and she opened two more restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Sag Harbor, New York, in subsequent years. The restaurant empire ran for almost three decades before ultimately winding down; the original location in the Theater District was the last to shutter in early 2015.
Aside from her restaurants, Smith published a variety of books on cooking and home entertainment, as well as hosted a nationally syndicated talk show, B. Smith With Style, that ran on NBC for nearly a decade, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She also produced a bedding, tableware, and bath products collection for Bed Bath & Beyond and a furniture line for La-Z-Boy, the Times reports.
Smith started her career as a fashion model, ultimately signing with Wilhelmina’s modeling agency in New York and successfully becoming a repeat cover star on multiple national magazines. She was the second black model to ever appear on the cover of Mademoiselle, in July 1976.