Deirdre Auld wanted to be an architect; now she’s a towering figure in Boston’s restaurant industry

The Coda Group’s operations director got her start working for Barbara Lynch.

Deirdre Auld
Deirdre AuldDerek Kouyoumjian

Deirdre Auld, 32, began working in restaurants as a teenager, paying her way through school as a server, host, and bartender. She dreamed of becoming an architect.

“But this was right around the crash,” she recalls. “It was impossible to get a job or to keep a job in architecture at that time, and so I had a job at night working in restaurants. And I just found myself so drawn to wine and to service and wanting to be a part of it more and more that I decided not to go back to design.”

Instead of creating buildings, she creates experiences for restaurant guests, first as general manager at Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop and No. 9 Park; now she’s director of operations for the Coda Group, which runs Coda, the Salty Pig, SRV — and hopefully another restaurant when they find the right space.


What’s the first restaurant that you visited in Boston?

Oh, man, that’s a really great question. I actually remember very vividly going to Toro when I first moved here. In about 2010, I moved from Chicago. I remember feeling like, number one, the restaurants in Boston are so much smaller than in Chicago, although restaurants in Chicago were huge. I was super floored by how bright and vibrant and cozy it was — and how tight the quarters were, in a really fun way. It created a great energy. I’m sure we probably got the corn.

What’s one thing that you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here?

Oh my goodness. Just one? I think that there’s still such a challenge when it comes to the wage gap between the front and the back of house, and even service staff and management in some capacities. [Some restaurants are] raising their prices to provide a higher wage for the back of house. But I think we’re still a ways away in terms of finding equality in that. It’s just been hard to find an actual solution in terms of not wanting to take something away from the service staff and being able to keep a positive wage for them and also keep a professional workforce in that department. There’s huge inequality.


What other restaurants do you visit?

I go to Little Donkey all the time. I live pretty close by. I love them. I’m just a big fan of Jamie [Bissonnette] and Ken [Oringer] in general. I think they’re really skillful, and they’ve created great environments. I love Chickadee. I think that those guys are doing something really great, and they’ve really taken on a neighborhood that nobody else has taken on. I’m a big, big fan of them. And I go to Cafe Sushi a lot.

What is your earliest food memory that made you think you might work in the restaurant business one day?

I grew up in North Carolina, and I remember going out to dinner was a really special occasion for us. It wasn’t a regular occurrence, and so I always looked at restaurants with that kind of lens. It was a special moment, no matter how casual the restaurant was. Looking back now at the restaurants that we would go to, they were so casual — or chains — but just getting that feeling like it was a bit of a production. It meant something that my family had decided to spend some money to go out. I was really drawn to that feeling.


What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?

Wow. I definitely do not want to say where, but I had an experience where I went in for dinner with a friend, and we had a hard time getting attention just to order a drink to start with. It started to turn south when we ordered food. We ordered an item and the bartender said, “No, you don’t want that.” And I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, we actually do want that, but thank you for your recommendation.” And he again told us it was something that we didn’t want. And again we were like, “Well, thanks so much, but no.” And then it just kept getting weirder! He made the choice not to send us that item and to send us something else. He made the choice for us, and then he charged us for the item that we didn’t order. The whole experience was weird. Thank you for the recommendations, but this is our experience, and we’d like to make the choices!

How could the Boston food scene improve?

That’s a great question. I think we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of continuing to see new faces and new people open restaurants. I think that the restaurant culture could continue to grow outside of the styles of food and cuisine that we’re sort of accustomed to. We see a lot of the same in terms of food, and the same in terms of style of dining. . . . If we could get more variety of chefs, more variety of operators, and a greater variety of food, it would be great.


Ultimately, I think the biggest challenge for the restaurant industry right now is the barrier to entry. It is so expensive to open a restaurant, and as real estate creeps up, it’s just totally destroying opportunities for independent operators and little guys to start businesses. We have to fix that problem. This city needs to work on continuing to make opportunities. . . . Variety would make the scene better. Adjusting the barrier to entry is the thing that needs to really continue to be focused on in order to allow for that.

How has the restaurant scene changed since you first arrived in Boston?

When I first lived here, there were really only three or four big operators. It was Barbara Lynch, it was Garrett Harker, it was Ken Oringer, and Jamie Bissonnette was sort of coming up with him at that point. And Michael Schlow was pretty big on the scene, too. … [Now], there’s so much more opportunity to work for different operators, and I think that opportunity has really exploded for people. It’s significantly more competitive than it used to be, which is ultimately just great for our employees to have a better lifestyle.

Name three adjectives for Boston diners.


I would say smart, I would say loyal, and I would say honest.

What’s the most overdone trend right now?

Tiki bars.

What type of restaurant is Boston missing?

Really great question. I think Boston is missing really, really strong neighborhood restaurants that are not themed or not so concept-driven. There are great restaurants in neighborhoods, but we’re seeing a lot of the actual neighborhood restaurants closing, [places] where you can just go every single day of the week and feel comfortable.

What are you reading right now?

I just got the book “Catch and Kill,” so I just started that. And then I’m also at the same time reading “Pretty Mess” by Erika Girardi from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

How’s your commute?

It’s definitely gotten more challenged over the years. I live in Somerville and I drive, walk, or bike. So I combo with my partner. We share one car, and definitely the construction in the city is making it really, really hard to commute as rapidly as I once could. But it’s still not that bad. I’m very fortunate not to have to sit in traffic for hours, so I can’t really complain.

What’s one food you never want to eat again?

I could go without any of the extreme offals again, like brain and heart. I don’t need to experience those experiences anymore.

What Boston restaurant do you miss the most?

It’s come back, but I loved Spoke when John daSilva was there. I’m sure those guys are still doing well with the new crew, but I loved the original Spoke. I think that it was such a special little location, and they were doing amazing food from such a tiny kitchen. The beverage program was always really, really special.

Who has been your most memorable customer?

There’s a wonderful woman who has been a patron of mine when I was working at No. 9 Park, and she’s followed along. Her name is Barbara, and we call her Saint Barbara because she delivers food to men’s shelters whenever she has extra food. And whenever the shelters close and they’re just going to throw things out, she brings them to the restaurant and gives people late-night food. She’s just the most lovely human in the world, so enjoyable to be around. She’s always so excited about the experience that she has at the restaurant, but it’s also just that extra step of doing something that she doesn’t need to do and that’s so appreciated by our team.

If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be?

I think I would want to go to a couple iconic places: I would definitely want to have a martini at Eastern Standard, either to start or to end — probably to start so that I get myself in less trouble than if I was to end there! I would want to have pizza at Coppa. I love their pizza so much. And I’d definitely go to No. 9. I think it’s so iconic, and that dining room is so special, and the bar room, it has such an old-school Boston vibe. You really get that Boston experience of seeing the park, being right by the State House. It’s definitely a place that stood the test of time. I’d stop by for a snack at the bar.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.