Empire of the Sun-Dried Tomato
Between running restaurants and starting businesses, Barbara Lynch is everywhere these days. But world domination? She’ll pass.
Since the July opening of her cookbook store/demonstration kitchen, Stir, on Waltham Street in the South End (where it joined her B & G Oysters, Butcher Shop, and Plum Produce), Barbara Lynch has been in a bit of a lull. She has a line of knife kits in development and a cookbook to finish. And there are her existing ventures, which include a catering business, to oversee. Still, there won’t be a new Lynch project for a whole, oh, five months, when she debuts a nearly 15,000-square-foot restaurant/café/lounge complex on Congress Street next spring.
Her considerable range notwithstanding, the Southie-born chef’s ambitions don’t have the outsize quality of some of her peers’: She’s not gunning for New York, or the Food Network. “There’s never expansion for the sake of expansion,” she says. Instead, Lynch makes quirkier, more personal choices. The inspiration for Plum Produce (where, buyer beware, broccoli sells for $6 a pound), she says, was to bring customers the same quality ingredients she uses in her restaurants. The kitchen at Stir is a replica of her setup at home, and most of the cookbooks she sells are also in her personal library. But while Lynch describes all these decisions as instinctual—“I look around and see unfilled niches”—we discovered there were some solid business strategies at work, too. Aspiring foodie entrepreneurs, take note:
Offering both upscale retail and dining options means customers are more likely to associate Lynch’s name with quality food across the board. “The more of your food dollars she can capture, the more loyalty and consistency her businesses have,” says Boston-based restaurant consultant Clark Wolf.
Menu of Options
Selling prepared foods, as Lynch does at the Butcher Shop, can increase revenue per square foot. And clustering businesses within a single South End block lets staffers move easily between them and gives Lynch the clout to negotiate better leases. Finally, while tiny Plum Produce may not generate huge revenues, it’s low risk: Lynch can wholesale any unsold produce back to her restaurants.
Retaining employees is essential (especially given the city’s current shortage of good line cooks—see “It Pays to Be Wanted”). More businesses means Lynch can provide more job opportunities—the better to hold on to a promising sous chef who’s looking to move up.