More than six weeks after Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop closed for a “summer break,” the South End restaurant remains closed, and its fate is uncertain.
While speculation has swirled in the restaurant world that the Tremont Street mainstay is shuttered for good, Lynch said in a statement to the Globe on Wednesday that a newly-hired chief operating officer is “looking at how [the restaurant] aligns now with the evolutions of the neighborhood and the city. Options for its future are open.”
In her statement, Lynch said staff at The Butcher Shop had been redeployed to her other restaurants during the summer break, and implied The Butcher Shop’s struggles may be tied to its lack of a full liquor license.
“The Butcher Shop applied to the City of Boston in 2019 for a full liquor license, but unfortunately the city denied the request, something that has limited our flexibility and ability to keep up with local trends,” the statement continued.
Lynch opened The Butcher Shop roughly 20 years ago, as a nod to European butcheries, and it has been prominent in the South End dining scene ever since. During the early months of the COVID pandemic, the place “opened its windows to the neighborhood,” providing comfort food — and toilet paper — at a time when both were prized.
It has long since reopened for seated dining, but around the beginning of August a notice on The Butcher Shop website started telling visitors the restaurant was on a temporary break. Lynch hosted an Umbria wine dinner with a $170 general admission there on August 16. Social media posts indicate that event happened. But otherwise, no reservations have been available on the online booking platform Resy since August.
The timing of the closure also followed detailed reports of a toxic workplace culture at Lynch’s restaurants: In March, two former employees filed a lawsuit alleging the chef had shorted them tips earlier in the pandemic. Then more employees spoke out publicly in the Globe soon thereafter with allegations of toxic work behavior across her seven establishments: B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop, Drink, Menton, Stir, No. 9 Park, and Sportello. Lynch also recently opened her first new restaurant in years: The Rudder, in Gloucester.
Some alleged that Lynch repeatedly lashed out at staff and guests, touched employees inappropriately, and issued threats of violence. She often abused alcohol on the job, others added. A number of top staffers have departed.
Lynch long represented the pinnacle of Boston’s restaurant world: a South Boston native who overcame sexual assault and alcoholism within her family to reach the echelon of fine dining. She was heralded for provided employees a living wage, health insurance, and mental health resources before that was the norm. But the swirl of controversy has brought that portrait of benevolence crashing down.
And complaints against Lynch have reignited conversations about abuse and addiction behind closed doors at restaurants.
“I just feel like the behavior in the industry has to end, and she is at the forefront of it,” Michaela Horan, a former manager at The Butcher Shop, told the Globe in April.
More changes could be coming. In the statement Wednesday, Lynch added that the Lynch Cooperative had a new chief operations officer in Lorraine Tomlinson-Hall, who will take a “top-to-bottom look at the entire company.”