Barbara Lynch might be pretty fiery—her seven kitchens are anything but. Growing up in the unofficial mafia capital of the Northeast, the Boston chef started life with only the rawest ingredients...and a fearless tenacity. Now heading up Barbara Lynch Gruppo, an amalgamation of high-concept food businesses, it’s safe to say this kid from the projects has a few lessons under her belt.
Barbara’s first cooking job was at the Soda Shack in South Boston—greasy and unglamorous—flipping cheesesteaks and burgers, and frying fish. “That was the most amazing job for me,” she says. “Even though it was a burger joint, people came back every day because it was delicious. That was just the boost that a 12- year-old who dreamed of becoming a chef needed.”
A high school dropout, the only class Barbara ever really liked was Home Economics. “I do feel that education is important, not just for professional success, but to feel successful as a human being and to feel on-par with your peers.” But she firmly believes the real education challenge is adapting the learning environment so kids of all backgrounds can succeed.
“Especially when you’re in a job interview with an asshole owner who has no idea what kind of questions to ask the chef-to-be or the cook-to-be.” In other words: Barbara’s cool with white lies, but you better be ready to deliver on your promises.
Being told to “be yourself” sounds counterintuitive. But Barbara can empathize with finding it hard to march to the beat of your own drum; “especially with the media, internet, and advertisers trying to sell you on products, or even on who you should be,” she says. “Read through the bullshit and you’ll end up being a winner all-around! Also, always shoot high and accept that eccentric really is the new normal.”
If you don’t already have one, revisiting what once got you really excited is a great way to find a vision. “That's usually where your path starts,” Barbara says. “I just followed mine, and yes, there were bumps in the road, of course. But that's life and you just have to make sure you get back on track.”
If you don’t know something, “Google the shit out of it!”
“I work really hard to not have any tension in my kitchens. You can’t waste your energy on something that doesn't exist.”
“I can't say enough about this! I have had my phases that were not so balanced—that shit will bring you tumbling down sooooo fast,” Barbara says. “Walking, running, meditation, or even painting can take your mind off of the everyday workload, and that’s always healthy.”
Starting a business can be like walking around blindfolded, but Barbara has learnt to devour the unknown. “I can only be in the present, otherwise I get overwhelmed with what's coming up,” she says. “By living in the present, you do sometimes create more chaos—but just delegate, and growth happens!”
The key to the most successful businesses is creating a hard-working and dedicated company culture, and a mission your staff can support. “But manipulation seems to cling to successful people—it is such a waste of time and not for me, but God, it halts a company like no other,” Barbara says. “It only takes one individual to spread toxins and change the course. I wish I avoided giving that kind of person an opportunity with us, but sometimes you can’t tell. Basically, just learn from the past and move forward.”