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March 1, 2024

Iconic Boston Chef Barbara Lynch Suddenly Closes Multiple Restaurants

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Jan 6, 2024

Barbara Lynch, one of Boston’s most celebrated and influential chefs, shocked the local dining scene this week by abruptly shuttering three of her most popular restaurants. The closures come amid legal disputes with landlords and difficulties posed by the pandemic, marking the end of an era for Lynch’s pioneering restaurant group.

Menton, Sportello, and Drink Abruptly Cease Operations

On January 5th, 2024, Lynch’s company announced that three of her flagship restaurants– Menton, Sportello, and Drink– would immediately cease operations. Employees and patrons alike were caught unprepared by the news.

Menton, a fine dining French restaurant, had held a Michelin star since 2010 and was known as Lynch’s crown jewel. Sportello, an Italian eatery, popularized the “pastaria” concept. Drink, an early craft cocktail bar, was credited with revolutionizing Boston’s bar scene.

All three had been lynchpins of Lynch’s award-winning hospitality empire for over a decade. Their sudden closure comes as a shock, leaving dozens unemployed right before the holidays.

Years of Mounting Difficulties

The closures, while abrupt, cap years of mounting difficulties for Lynch. The celebrity chef had been candid recently about the perfect storm of challenges facing her restaurants.

Inflation and Labor Shortages

Along with the entire industry, Lynch has struggled with soaring costs and chronic staffing woes. Inflation saw ingredient prices spike over 60% even as labor shortages drove up wages.

“We’re having to pay people a lot more money,” Lynch told the Boston Globe in September. “Our food costs are ridiculous.”

Pandemic Hardships

The pandemic hit fine dining establishments like Menton particularly hard. Capacity restrictions and health concerns kept business far below normal levels.

Lynch at one point paid salaries entirely out of her own pocket to avoid furloughs. Despite receiving more than $3 million in federal aid, the financial damage was too severe to fully recover from.

Disputes With Landlords

Most damaging, however, were bitter disputes between Lynch’s company and the landlords of her restaurant properties. Lawsuits allege years of unpaid rent and millions in missing payments.

The landlords–including Don Chiofaro, one of Boston’s largest developers–eventually moved to evict Lynch’s restaurants for nonpayment.

Table 1: Key dates in landlords’ legal actions against Lynch’s restaurants

Restaurant Landlord Complaint Filed Eviction Proceedings Initiated
Drink March 2022 October 2022
Menton May 2022 November 2022
Sportello July 2022 December 2022

Lynch has accused the landlords of refusing good faith efforts to negotiate rent relief. But court records show missed payments stretching back before 2020.

With evictions looming over her three most profitable restaurants, Lynch finally threw in the towel. Employees reportedly learned of the closures mere hours before the restaurants shut their doors for good.

What Comes Next

While the specific futures of Menton, Sportello, and Drink remain uncertain, Lynch has already begun winding down and selling off parts of her restaurant empire.

Her catering operation, Vestry, closed permanently last year after 25 years. This week, she also announced the sale of two restaurants–B&G Oysters and the Butcher Shop–to longtime employees.

However, Lynch insists she is not retiring. She still owns three restaurants–including her original No. 9 Park–and aims to focus her attention on upcoming projects. With the celebrity chef’s plans in flux, all eyes are on what Lynch’s next move will be.

Table 2: Status of Lynch’s restaurants after January 2024 changes

Restaurant Status Notes
No. 9 Park Open Lynch’s original restaurant, opened 1998
B&G Oysters Sold Sold to longtime employee this January
Butcher Shop Sold Sold to longtime employee this January
Drink Closed Closed indefinitely January 2024
Menton Closed Lost Michelin star, closed indefinitely
Sportello Closed Closed indefinitely January 2024

The permanent loss of Menton, Sportello, and Drink leaves a noticeable gap in Boston’s culinary scene. As recently as last fall, Lynch seemed an unstoppable force, with eight restaurants and a peerless reputation. Her sudden reversal of fortune has shocked fans and peers alike.

Other veteran chefs and restaurateurs have voiced support, blaming systemic issues beyond Lynch’s control. But it remains unclear if even Lynch can recover from this string of abrupt and permanent closures. For Boston’s original celebrity chef, the future is newly uncertain.

More Boston Restaurants At Risk

Industry experts warn that other top Boston restaurants may soon face similar hardships to Lynch’s. The past three years have strained the dining sector to a breaking point.

Independent data shows 31% of the city’s restaurants have closed for good since 2020. Those hanging on face ever-thinning margins and a vastly changed business landscape.

Lynch had advantages few others enjoy – an international reputation, millions in outside investments, and over $3 million in federal aid. That her restaurant group still crumbled sends a dire signal about the fragility of Boston’s post-pandemic dining scene.

With rents and ingredients still sky-high and staff still scarce, Lynch’s dramatic downsizing may be only the first of many to come. Her decades-long reign at the apex of Boston’s culinary world has ended with shocking swiftness. For other top chefs and restaurateurs, her fall may signal the start of an even more turbulent period ahead.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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