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Boston restaurant industry reacts to reports of workplace abuse by chef Barbara Lynch

Chef Barbara Lynch. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Chef Barbara Lynch. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Local players in the restaurant industry reacted strongly to news reports Thursday that acclaimed chef Barbara Lynch has allegedly mistreated workers for years.

Stories in  The New York Times and The Boston Globe detailed complaints from former workers who alleged Lynch was physically and verbally abusive, often after drinking.

The accusations against Lynch, who owns several upscale restaurants including No. 9 Park and Menton, stirred a wave of outrage on social media — and for some, relief that the alleged experiences of insiders had been more widely revealed.

“Finally. This story is decades overdue," Boston hospitality and PR consultant Patrick Maguire wrote on Instagram. Citing a nickname for the Barbara Lynch Collective, he wrote, "No one who worked at the 'Gruppo' or is close friends with those who have will be surprised by any of these revelations in the NYT about one of Boston's 'dirty secrets' that took far too long to expose. Blind, 'Celebrity chef' worship and defense is bull*#!@.”

Lynch, a James Beard Award winner and one of Boston's great culinary success stories, in a statement said she considers her 160 employees "part of my family" and called the accusations against her "fantastical." She acknowledged being a hard-charging boss and said, "I am a creature of the alcohol-steeped hospitality and restaurant industry."

Lynch told her own story in a 2017 memoir, about growing up in a housing project in South Boston, never going to culinary school and building a high-end restaurant empire that includes B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop and Stir in the South End, and Drink and Sportello downtown. Lynch is in the process of opening another restaurant, The Rudder, in Gloucester.

News of Lynch's alleged workplace behavior — ranging from the cringey to the aggressive — comes after other well-known chefs have been called out for inappropriate comments or abuses of power at work.

Irene Li, co-owner of the dumpling mecca Mei Mei in South Boston, said she's felt increasingly distressed over the years, discovering how many “open secrets” there were in Boston's restaurant community.

“For the longest time, I didn’t think there was anything I could do,” she said in an email response to WBUR. “But I’m heartened by people coming forward and hope that my fellow restaurant owners and I can find ways to constructively support them.”

Li, winner of a James Beard award for leadership, has long advocated for equity and accountability in Boston's restaurant scene. Her call to arms was fueled recently by controversial comments celebrity chef Ming Tsai made in February.

While sharing the stage with Li for an event at WBUR's City Space, Tsai asked if she had “roofied” him. He jokingly said he'd dosed her drink with a date-rape drug. Tsai later apologized for the comment after Li wrote about the exchange on social media.

“This isn't about cancelling anyone or taking people down," Li said in her email to WBUR. "Our industry has harmed a lot of people. If independent restaurants have a future, it will be because we achieved better cultural norms, and personally, I think accountability for past behavior is part of that.”

Mistreatment of restaurant workers happens well beyond the high-end hot spots. In March, the owner of Stash's Pizza in Dorchester and Roslindale was arrested on a federal charge of forced labor, for allegedly verbally and physically assaulting immigrant workers.

Last summer, celebrity chef Mario Batali agreed to settle two Massachusetts lawsuits with women who accused him of sexual assault.

Lynch, in her statement, sought to distance herself from "peers accused of behavior that is absolutely criminal."

In a separate matter, Lynch faces a lawsuit, filed last month, from two former employees who alleged that she withheld tips during the pandemic.

Lou Saban, an attorney representing workers in the tips lawsuit, also represents Tim Dearing, a former Lynch employee whose story was detailed in the news reports Thursday. Dearing alleges that he was fired on the spot after confronting Lynch for not meeting with staff after the sudden death of a colleague.

“I wish I could say that I was surprised," Saban said of the allegations against Lynch. But, "these are rumblings that have been going around for a long time.”


Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.


Andrea Shea Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.



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