A Beantown original's epicurean empire
Boston native Barbara Lynch has built a $25 million business by creating the foods she loves.
(Fortune Small Business) -- It's late afternoon, and chef Barbara Lynch has been at her new restaurant and cafe, Sportello, all day: hand-rolling pasta, refining menus and, now, fueling up on coffee for the long evening ahead.
The diner-style trattoria in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood of Boston is part of a three-tiered project that also includes a cocktail lounge, Drink, and an as-yet-unnamed upscale Italian eatery set to open this fall. It's Lynch's biggest undertaking yet, and a poetic one at that: The 45-year-old chef/restaurateur grew up in the projects of South Boston, just blocks away.
"I'm sort of the Good Will Hunting of the restaurant world," she says, laughing.
She's not far off. In just 11 years, Lynch has expanded her restaurant debut, No. 9 Park -- which has received awards from every major national food organization, including the James Beard Foundation -- into a mini-empire that keeps on growing (revenues exceed $25 million a year, she says).
Like most creative types, Lynch never imagined herself as a businesswoman. She got her start at age 13, cooking in the rectory at St. Monica's Catholic Church in South Boston, and went on to work for Boston-area celebrity chef Todd English. After training in Tuscany for a few months, she returned to Boston as executive chef of the now-closed Galleria Italiana and was named one of America's Best New Chefs by Food & Wine in 1996. Lynch recalls a congratulatory note she received from famed Boston chef Gordon Hammersley.
"He said, 'I hope you do something wonderful with this award,'" she says. "I realized that the recognition could either work for me or against me. I decided to make it work for me."
In 1998, Lynch opened No. 9 Park, where "slightly fancy but approachable" food included such creations as her now-famous prune-stuffed gnocchi. "At first I thought it would be crazy to do more than one restaurant," she says. "But after five years you need to grow your business to stay excited and inspired."
In 2003, Lynch opened both seafood hot spot B&G Oysters and wine and charcuterie bar The Butcher Shop, on opposite corners in the burgeoning South End neighborhood. Plum Produce, an organic-vegetable boutique, and Stir, a classroom and a cookbook shop, followed in 2006.
When planning for her three new Fort Point eateries began in earnest two years ago, Lynch knew it was time to hire a chief operating officer for her growing empire. "I ran the company for years," she says. "But that's not what I do. I love creating food. However, it was important that I grew the business to understand it."
Now she focuses on her real passions: designing inventive menus, mentoring kitchen staff and developing a distinct vision for each of her eight establishments.
"At some point you have to let go and give up control -- you have to go home -- and that's hard," says Lynch, who now has a five-year-old daughter, Marchesa. "But if I'm healthier and happier, my company is healthier and happier."To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.