If Matt Damon and Ben Affleck collaborated on a screenplay about a chef, it might very well resemble the story of James Beard award-winner Barbara Lynch, who has amassed a virtual restaurant empire in Boston. A native of the hardscrabble projects of South Boston, she began cooking professionally at the age of 13, at a local rectory. In her early 20s, she worked under some of Boston’s hottest rising stars, including Todd English. She then traveled to Italy to learn the cuisine firsthand from local women. When she opened her own restaurant, No. 9 Park, on Beacon Hill in 1998, it was an instant hit, named among the “Top 25 New Restaurants” by Bon Appetit and “Best New Restaurant” by Food & Wine. In 2003, she upped the ante with two restaurants in the South End: the seafood Mecca B&G Oysters and a neighborhood charcuterie, The Butcher Shop.
“It’s definitely different being a chef vs. a chef-owner vs. a restaurateur with multiple properties. With each, there are unique challenges that seem to grow with the additional responsibility. That said, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to own your own business and to be in a position where you can successfully expand and build a brand,” says Lynch.
A catering company and demonstration kitchen/cookbook store followed, and Lynch was one of the first chefs to embrace South Boston’s rapidly developing waterfront, with her twist on a diner, Sportello (Italian for counter service), and the concept cocktail bar Drink. In Spring 2010, she opened her high-end fine dining restaurant Menton, which won instant critical acclaim.
“I used to encourage young women to go after positions in professional kitchens, but now I’m urging them to strive to be the business owner and an entrepreneur. I tell them to focus on their craft and build a reputation within the industry, but also to learn the business, know how to write a business plan and how to raise money.”
Boston’s only Relais & Chateaux property, Menton also made Lynch the only female in the U.S. to hold the title of Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux. Meanwhile, her first cookbook, Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, was a best-seller.
“Female-owned restaurant groups are a rarity,” she observes, “but there are so many talented women out there that I hope we’ll see many more in the future.”