Beginnings

No. 9 Park: Defining Legacy

Chef Barbara with a gathering of her Southie crew

“No. 9 Park is the mothership, defining the culture for all the restaurants in my group.” —Barbara Lynch, from Out of Line

No. 9 Park still is the hardest restaurant to work in. Size is a challenge, as is the age of the building. Yet there is an unspoken camaraderie among the staff. It is, after all, where we groomed our culture.

I cut my teeth on No. 9 Park. I even helped with the original demolition to save money. From Day One, I had it in my head that it would be not only the best restaurant in Boston, but also nationally recognized. I wanted to gain the respect of my peers, because I knew that if I did, it would speak volumes to my staff.

I’m always struck by the professionalism I witness in kitchens and dining rooms while I travel throughout Europe. I wanted to recreate that at No. 9 Park through the menu and a sense of warm hospitality that would eventually become a hallmark in all my restaurants.

Until then, I had mainly cooked Italian food. With No. 9 Park, a restaurant of my own, I could be more dynamic. I took classic French techniques and blended them with inspiration from my dining experiences in Italy.

“Fifty percent of new restaurants fail in their first year. Within three years of opening, I repaid my investors in full, and 20 years later we are still going strong.” —Barbara Lynch, from Out of Line

I knew I could cook, but could I be a great manager, leader, and entrepreneur? No. 9 Park gave me confidence, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed employees with genuine enthusiasm to carry out my vision: Lifers with predictable incomes to whom hospitality was a career, not a part-time side job.

Cat and I created a culture supported by the experiences we amassed over the years. We wanted to instill pride in being a part of the food and wine world, then and now. It’s pretty intense: You have to know our programs inside out to be on the floor. But this also allows us to easily determine who gets it and who needs a little extra help. Here, you get a chance to learn to cook the way I did—not in culinary school, but on the job.

Our insistence on staff education paid off. It’s mind-boggling to think that 20 years later, No. 9 Park is doing better than ever. Of course, we’ve gone through all the normal tweaking that comes with time: updating the dining room, fine-tuning the hours of operation, etc. But guests have come to rely on a consistency in the quality of our food, beverage, and service.

A legacy restaurant comes with its challenges. It needed to expand past a neighborhood base to survive. But I’m a Bostonian through and through, and No. 9 Park has come to represent everything I love about this city. From its historic address to its relaxed service and solid menu, No.9 Park is tough.

It’s a survivor. Much like this kid who grew up in the projects in South Boston.