Barbara Smith, a fashion model who created a business empire by catering to the tastes of aspiring black professionals with her restaurants, television shows, bedding and furniture collections and books on entertaining, died on Saturday at her home on Long Island. She was 70.
The cause was early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, her family said. Ms. Smith had waged a long and public battle with the disease, which was diagnosed when she was in her 50s.
Ms. Smith was best known for her popular Manhattan restaurant, B. Smith. Located at the edge of the theater district, it opened in 1986 and almost immediately attracted a following among affluent black New Yorkers, who welcomed it as a stylish gathering spot. Essence magazine, in 1995, described it as the place “where the who’s who of black Manhattan meet, greet and eat regularly.”
Ms. Smith opened a successful offshoot in Union Station in Washington, D.C., in 1994 and four years later in Sag Harbor, N.Y., where she and her second husband and business partner, Dan Gasby, maintained a summer house.
Often called the black Martha Stewart, Ms. Smith translated her sense of style into a series of books on cooking and entertaining; a syndicated weekly television show on NBC, “B. Smith with Style”; a bedding, tableware and bath products collection for Bed Bath & Beyond; and a furniture line for the La-Z-Boy company that mingled African and Asian elements.
Her ventures achieved crossover success, attracting customers beyond her core black clientele. The Washington Post wrote that her restaurant in Washington “manages to transcend racial lines,” adding that “like a well-whisked beurre blanc, the races here mingle without separating.”
In an interview with National Public Radio in 2007, Ms. Smith said: “What B. Smith’s brand is about is bringing people together. I think that if Martha Stewart and Oprah had a daughter, it would be B. Smith.”
Barbara Elaine Smith was born on Aug. 24, 1949, in Everson, Pa. Her father, William, was a steelworker. Her mother, Florence (Claybrook) Smith, was a part-time maid with a flair for interior decorating that she had once hoped to make her career.
From early childhood, Barbara was a whirlwind. “I inherited a paper route, I sold magazines, had lemonade stands, I was a candy striper and into fund-raising,” she told The New York Times in 2011. “I’ve always enjoyed being busy.”
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SOURCE: The New York Times, William Grimes