The name Barbara Lynch is synonymous with Boston’s restaurant scene. Over the past 25 years—as her slew of award-winning restaurants, including the Menton, B&G Oysters, and Sportello helped define New England food culture—the iconic chef also spoke out against sexism and abuse within America’s still-male-dominated hospitality industry. But now, a new report from The New York Times raises questions about her own behavior: A flood of former staffers allege various physical and verbal workplace abuses, such as violent threats and unwanted touching. Many of the claims, former staffers tell the Times, were already well known in the Boston restaurant scene.
Accusations against Lynch include threatening to shove a chef’s head through a window, impulsively firing staff, cooking and showing up to the restaurants drunk, and subjecting certain staff members to physical harassment. According to the Times, 20 of Lynch’s former employees and a dozen industry veterans contributed to the story, saying that “her actions, while shocking, were not surprising.” Lynch has admitted to alcohol issues but otherwise broadly rejected the accusations, telling the Times they are “fantastical” and seemingly “designed to ‘take me down.’”
The Times investigation paints a picture that runs counter to the careful narrative Lynch has crafted for herself, one in which she is a working class hero and staunch advocate against workplace harassment. But it’s not the first time staffers have accused Lynch of harm. Here’s what to know about Lynch and her past, as well as some of the biggest takeaways from The New York Times investigation.
Lynch is a big deal in the Boston dining scene, but this isn’t her first run-in with controversy.
Lynch, who is 59 years old, is legendary in the Boston dining scene. In 2003, she was the second woman ever to win a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef. Five years later, she received the Amelia Earhart Award for pioneering women in Boston. After publishing her memoir in 2017, Out of Line, which detailed her own experiences of sexual abuse, Time magazine named Lynch one of the world’s most influential people. And this past weekend, she opened her eighth restaurant, the Rudder, near her home in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
But these latest allegations aren’t the chef’s first brush with scandal. In July 2017, after crashing her Mini Cooper into an unoccupied car, Lynch was arrested for driving under the influence. According to local news, she’d clocked a blood-alcohol level almost twice the legal limit. This year, two of Lynch’s former employees brought a class-action lawsuit against the chef, claiming she’d failed to pay out their tips after the restaurants reopened post-pandemic. The employees allege the move was in violation of Massachusetts law, which states that service employees can only be paid below state-mandated minimum wage if tips make up the difference.
According to the Times, the employees alleging wage theft haven’t previously criticized Lynch publicly “because of her connections to powerful people in Boston”—such as Stephen Lynch, her first cousin and a longtime congressman, and former lieutenant governor Tom O’Neill, who is an investor in Lynch’s first restaurant, No. 9 Park, and now owns a lobbying and public relations firm.
Lynch allegedly made violent threats against employees.
The Times story details a meeting between Lynch and two dozen employees that happened on March 15, after the group’s head chef and a line cook had both died of fentanyl overdoses in recent months. The employees had hoped for some moral support but instead said Lynch, who appeared to have been drinking beforehand, “delivered outrage and self-pity, in an expletive-laced confrontation.”