This story discusses physical and sexual violence and deaths following drug overdose.
More than a dozen restaurant employees have come forward with claims of workplace abuse and harassment that have allegedly gone on for years under renowned Boston chef Barbara Lynch. The allegations were published in two reports in the New York Times and the Boston Globe that dropped within hours of each other on April 20.
Both publications report that the company’s workforce has been shaken by two recent deaths on staff, and the tragedies have sparked a reckoning within the Barbara Lynch Collective restaurant group, which includes fine dining spots Menton and No. 9 Park, Italian restaurant Sportello, and South End oyster bar B&G Oysters. Executive chef Rye Crofter died of a fentanyl overdose in late January, according to the Times. Lynch did not attend Crofter’s memorial and was largely absent to staff in the wake of his death, the Globe reports. The Times reported that one of Crofter’s mentees died the same way two months later; according to the Globe it was Ayesha Mohammed, a cook at Menton.
After Mohammed died, Lynch gathered Menton’s staff at the restaurant and proceeded to give mourning employees not a message of support, but one filled with “outrage and self-pity,” according to the Times. When Tim Dearing, who had stepped in as Menton’s head chef, reportedly confronted Lynch during the meeting to say that she hadn’t visited Menton’s kitchen since Crofter had died, Lynch fired him “on the spot,” the Times reports. Dearing responded that he would call her out on her behavior, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by both publications, and then Lynch threatened to shove his head through a window.
Lynch then told staff to show up the following day to see whether they still had their jobs, according to the Times. The eight remaining members of Crofter’s kitchen team resigned from the group within days of that encounter.
The incident was the tip of the iceberg for many former employees in the group who allege that Lynch was acting physically and verbally aggressive toward employees for many years.
At Drink, Lynch’s famed cocktail bar, Lynch allegedly touched employees “on their groins and bottoms on the pretext of squeezing into the narrow space,” veteran bartender Oscar Simoza, who helped reopen Drink in 2021, told the Times. Another former Drink employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Times that shortly after she was hired in 2015, Lynch allegedly commented to her that they would “make a good couple” and “caressed her lower back and squeezed her bottom” when she was performing work duties behind the bar.
At the Butcher Shop, Lynch’s French and Italian wine bar and butchery in the South End, former employee Michaela Horan told both the Times and the Globe that she quit her job after Lynch reportedly grabbed her and dragged her out from behind the bar in the dining room during dinner service because she was angry that Horan had put in a table’s order for appetizers without also getting their entrees. “No one had ever put their hands on me before,” Horan, an industry veteran, told the Times. “Once was enough.”
Another former Butcher Shop employee, Zoe Wilkins, recalled for the Globe how the restaurant at one point had allegedly tried to get front-of-house employees to wear suggestive T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “I heart tongue” and “I heart sausage.” “It’s dehumanizing to wear a shirt that says ‘I heart sausage’ on it in your place of work, in an industry where you’re already overly sexualized,” Wilkins told the Globe. “It was gross.”
Lynch has denied the workplace allegations against her, calling them “fantastical” and “designed to ‘take me down’ and lump me in with peers accused of behavior that is absolutely criminal,” in statements to both the Times and the Globe. She also told both publications that she is “a creature of the alcohol-steeped hospitality and restaurant industry” and is “committed to taking responsibility and working on myself.”
In an additional statement supplied in the week after the reports were published, Lynch through a press representative denied that she had fired Dearing in the Menton staff meeting, but rather, “after multiple conversations with company officials chose to resign.” The representative also said that Lynch had not been invited to Crofter’s memorial “but she closed her restaurant so they could have it in complete privacy.”
Lynch is one of Boston’s most famous faces in the local restaurant industry. She won a James Beard Award for outstanding restaurateur in 2014, and was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2017. She is a Boston native, and her traumatic upbringing in South Boston has been well-documented, including in her 2017 memoir Out of Line, which detailed, among other things, her experience with sexual assault.
The Times talked to 20 former employees for its report, and the Globe talked to more than a dozen. Both stories detail how Lynch would allegedly come to her various restaurants while intoxicated, which employees say created unsafe work environments for staff over years.
This is not the first time that allegations of alcohol misuse and employee mistreatment have come to light against Lynch, but the reports include the most extensive allegations to date. In 2017, Lynch was arrested for driving under the influence in Gloucester. In March 2023, two former employees brought a class-action lawsuit against Lynch for allegedly withholding tips during the pandemic, while the restaurant group was using an emergency Paycheck Protection Program loan to help cover payroll. (The representative for Lynch also denied wrongdoing in this instance, saying that the PPP funds were “handled as intended” during this time.)
Update, May 2, 1:07 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments from a press representative for Barbara Lynch.