As a native of seaside Newburyport, Colin Lynch feels the Atlantic runs through his veins. But unlike the seafood restaurants he frequented with his family on Cape Cod as a child that “all had the same menu in order to get a family of six in,” the partner and executive chef at the acclaimed Traveler Street Hospitality (TSH) group takes the road less traveled.
At TSH’s Bar Mezzana, diners feast on classics that are “deceptively delicious,” he says. Grilled octopus zings with pickled Hungarian peppers and a hazelnut romesco sauce; seared scallops sit on a bed of pureed pumpkin with a chile-nori relish; and the lobster paccheri pasta, a plate piled with a one pound-plus New England crustacean, Mexican crema, green onion and tomato, is a highlight.
Though Lynch’s goal was to spotlight Italian coastal cooking, Bar Mezzana has proved to be so much more. The restaurant debuted in South End seven years ago, in a part of the neighborhood that was far from the food destination it is today. There was just one Irish pub, and longtime favorite Lebanese restaurant Red Fez was closing. Ted Tye, the lead developer on the Ink Block mixed-use development in the area, was looking to bring in an establishment run by a local restaurateur.
“We’ve all lived in South End and love the neighborhood and community,” Heather Kennaway Lynch, who runs TSH along with Jefferson Macklin, her husband Colin, and Ryan Lotz, says. “We always knew that if this happened, it would grow and people would come.”
Their intuition proved right. Bar Mezzana served as a catalyst for the expansion of small, independent businesses like coffee shops and boutiques bringing new lifeblood to Traveler Street, and transformed this section of South End on the cusp of Chinatown. TSH’s devotion to its employees, its focus on the surrounding community, and its dedication to serving stellar food and drinks have all established it as one of top restaurant groups in the city.
Since Bar Mezzana’s debut, TSH has added three new spots to its roster. Tropical bar and sushi restaurant Shore Leave opened in 2018, as did hidden omakase spot No Relation. The group’s American brasserie and raw bar, Black Lamb, opened in July 2019. Since their debut, the restaurants have gotten rave reviews: Shore Leave got a Best of Boston award from Boston Magazine for its cocktail space, and local food writers rave about Black Lamb’s burger and martini.
Heather Kennaway Lynch attributes the success to Traveler Street filling a void in the neighborhood, particularly the lack of spacious restaurants that also have formidable drinks programs. Both Bar Mezzana and Shore Leave boast more than 100 seats each in a neighborhood that’s largely full of smaller restaurants and labyrinthine streets packed with cozy brownstones.
“We’ve really built up a strong bar culture,” Kennaway Lynch says. “There’s always going to be a seat at the bar, and a great meal in front of you.”
She says the restaurant group’s quick ascent would not have been possible without its investment in its team. Traveler Street Hospitality is among few restaurant groups in the area offering its team a 401K program (with a company match), contributing to the volume of longtime staffers working there. There’s a language program for native English speakers who want to learn Spanish, and vice-versa. In addition, Jefferson Macklin runs a mentorship program for staffers hoping to learn about the financial side of the business.
“Our team holds up the culture and cares just as much about this place [as the leadership team],” Heather Kennaway Lynch says. “It’s a really great mix of dedicated new people, and others who have been with us since the beginning of Bar Mezzana, investing their time, energy, and love into our concepts.”
What’s more, TSH has endeared itself to the neighborhood through its involvement in a series of community-building efforts. The restaurant group is committed to lowering food waste, working with the Massachusetts-based Lovin’ Spoonfuls food rescue program. The group also works with a series of nonprofits such as Community Servings, which helps prepare and deliver medically tailored meals to people with chronic illnesses, as well asShare Our Strength and No Kid Hungry, programs dedicated to ending childhood hunger.
Macklin is also on the board of directors for More Than Words, an organization that empowers homeless and foster care youth and runs a bookshop a block away from Bar Mezzana. Rather than becoming a mega development with big-box stores, this section of South End has become a vibrant neighborhood thanks in large part due to the efforts of local residents such as the team at TSH.
“Seven years ago, this was all just an idea; a lot of people told us we were crazy,” Heather Kennaway Lynch says. “And seven years later, everyone is giving us a high-five for what’s been accomplished here.”
Carley Thornell-Wade is a Boston-based food, travel, and technology writer who’s been to more than 70 countries and delighted in tasting the regional delicacies of each.