Blue Ox changing ownership

July 27, 2011
By Jeff McMenemy/The Daily Item

A popular downtown restaurant, The Blue Ox, is changing ownership, but patrons probably won't notice any differences.

That's because Matt O'Neil, the executive chef there since its opening more than two years ago, is buying the Blue Ox from city attorney Mark DeJoie, according to O'Neil.

"I'm hoping it will be a seamless transition," O'Neil said Tuesday about the sale of the Oxford Street restaurant. "We've been open for 21/2 years and we continue to get busier. We're getting more and more people coming in."

O'Neil also sought to assure any worried patrons by saying The Blue Ox will remain in downtown Lynn where it has thrived.

Matt O’Neil is seen in one of the dining areas at The Blue Ox on Oxford Street in Lynn Tuesday. (Item Photo / Owen O'Rourke)

O'Neil believes the Blue Ox has succeeded where other downtown restaurants have failed because it offers "a little something for everybody."

"We have a kid's menu, great salads, flat bread pizza...we do pretty traditional stuff but really well," he said. "The food is top notch, the service is top notch and it's got a beautiful dining room and a great bar area. When you combine those elements, people are going to come from all over."

O'Neil decided to buy the restaurant when the opportunity presented itself and hopes the restaurant will continue to grow with the downtown.

The chef-turned-owner also maintains that his customers feel safe coming to the downtown.

"We have a parking lot adjacent to us in the Eastern Bank building that's very visible," he said. "We really haven't had any problems."

James Cowdell, the executive director of the Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn, said before the sale can go through, O'Neil will have to assume a loan made to the Lynn Restaurant Group, headed by DeJoie.

The EDIC provides loans from state and federal monies, Cowdell said, but the LRG got its loan for the Blue Ox from the Lynn Municipal Finance Corporation, which lends out Community Development Funds through the EDIC.

Cowdell received a letter last week from DeJoie asking for the remaining $184,985 loan to be transferred to O'Neil.

Lynn Municipal Finance Corp. board members are expected to vote on the transfer on Aug. 16, Cowdell said, but he believes the restaurant will continue to be successful.

"This is a success story. You've got the chef who's been there from the beginning, has successfully built up the business, now buying the business," Cowdell said. "Each year they've done better than the last."

"This is the American Dream that the chef is buying the business," he added, while stressing, "from the customer's point of view, they won't see any changes."

Cowdell said he doesn't expect there will be any problems with transferring the loan, because the business is successful and growing.

"I can tell you this," he said, "the Blue Ox has never been late on a loan payment."

DeJoie, who heads the LRG, did not return calls made Tuesday to his offices.

Cowdell maintains that the restaurant's success has debunked a myth about downtown Lynn.

"It's always been the knock that a restaurant can't succeed in downtown Lynn, but The Blue Ox has proved that's just not true."

Cowdell said he believes the restaurant has succeeded in part because they listened to what the people who live in and work in the downtown wanted.

"But the biggest reason is the food is great," Cowdell said. "Selling it to the chef makes perfect sense."

And the EDIC is working with another person looking to open a new restaurant in downtown Lynn, Cowdell said.

"It goes to our philosophy to put people in the downtown," Cowdell said.

Brendan Crighton, the Ward 5 City Councilor, called the restaurant "one of the centerpieces of the downtown."

"It's been successful at attracting visitors to the downtown and I hope it's there for a long time," Crighton said.

The city councilor said The Blue Ox attracts customers from inside and outside of the city.

"They're managed very well and they have a great product and they were able to tap into some folks from outside of Lynn," Crighton said.

O'Neil said he remains committed to downtown Lynn.

"I want to stay in the downtown and continue to help it grow," O'Neil said.

The sale has been agreed to, he said, they're just waiting on the closing and the transfer of some licenses.

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