Boston has seen some big changes in its restaurant landscape in the last year — with a string of high-profile closures — but renowned restaurateur Barbara Lynch is still at it. The celebrated chef from South Boston runs an empire of seven restaurants, including her original concept, No. 9 Park, which is now 20 years old. Lynch sat down with Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu to talk about her career and what she is doing to keep those doors open. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: You're in many ways seen as the last one standing.
Barbara Lynch: Holy s***. I'm sorry. No. Don't put me there.
Mathieu: You don't want to be there?
Lynch: Well, you know, I like company. And I think the more, the better. Is it shifting? I'm not really sure, because No. 9 Park is doing better than ever and we're over 20 years old.
Mathieu: Your flagship restaurant.
Lynch: Yeah. She's a machine. Menton has always been a challenge, just because it is Relais & Chateaux, and so it has that perception of being really stuffy and expensive, when it really isn't.
Mathieu: That's a great honor, to have that distinction.
Lynch: Not really. What I witnessed is that it put people off, because a lot of people felt like it was a four-hour, five-hour dining experience. I mean, I don't want to eat that long. I really don't. I think going out to dinner is a lot of work, first of all. It is, because if you have children you have to worry about babysitters or valet. Do they have valet? Do they take reservations? Why are restaurants closing? You know, it's tough. It's labor. Wages are up. Rents are outrageous for us — independent owners and so forth.
Mathieu: So prices are the biggest threat? Not so much demand by the public, or the taste of the month?
Lynch: Everything is a situation right now because food is expensive. There's only so much you can put off to the customer. You know, there's always going to be competition around the corner. But if you think of it as competition, that's where you're going to fail, because the more the merrier, honestly.
Mathieu: Why is that?
Lynch: I always thought of it as the gas station effect. I have three restaurants in one building. If I had one restaurant here 10 years ago I would be closed as well.
Mathieu: So, your three restaurants feed each other?
Lynch: Yeah, they create the demand. Even as a kid, I always thought, I'd love to have a restaurant where you could drop your clothes off at the dry cleaners. Well, ... three brick and mortars on one block. I thought, dry cleaners, flowers, make a reservation and then come in that night to dinner.
Mathieu: So maybe you've got a model that no one else has?
Lynch: I don't think so. I don't know, I always looked at it too as build more than one at the same time, save a little money on construction. But it isn't easy. I mean, it's not. I have to say, it gets tougher as you get older — not me, physically, restaurants. I mean 20 years in a restaurant, and it's doing better than ever is miraculous. No. 9 Park is doing that, it's great.
Mathieu: Barbara Lynch, when you look across the next seven or 10 or however many more years, what role do you want this restaurant to play in the Boston dining scene?
Lynch: I feel like we've been a great leader in the hospitality industry, and I want to continue to be that way. People are realizing it's more expensive to go down to McCormick and Schmick's or a steak joint, where value it has nothing to do with it.
Mathieu: But you're still describing a high-end experience.
Lynch: I am. I mean, yeah, I also like high-end clothes, but I also go to Zara.
Mathieu: So that's another note though, is that balance that you're striking between quality and value.
Mathieu: Where some restaurants aren't concerned about that at all — charge them $500 for a steak, and they'll come.
Lynch: Rip them off. We don't do that.
Mathieu: Would you open a high-end restaurant right now in Boston?
Mathieu: Why not?
Lynch: I don't want high-end, but I want — you know what I want? I want food that I want to eat every night. I like a bowl of steamed potatoes and leeks and a great glass of wine, and I love great service. I love china. You know, I want to feel great, but I want to be able to go there again and again and again. Like, I want a roast chicken joint. I don't want so super casual because I don't — I feel like a community needs restaurants that can really serve great home food, that you could come and you could bring your kid. I'm talking like more like a English pub or something like that, and one pot wonders, maybe, you know, like you know seafood stew. That would be my ideal retirement restaurant, quite frankly.
Mathieu: Please do that.
Lynch: I don't want to retire. I can't retire.