Mitchell Anderson came into Atlanta’s culinary realm through a rather unique path. After spending years acting in film, television, and on stage, Anderson made the decision to retire and move to Atlanta in 2002.
Fast-forward a decade, and Anderson is now running multiple Atlanta-area restaurants – MetroFresh Midtown, which opened in 2005, and MetroFresh In the Garden, which followed in 2011. With a constantly changing seasonal menu centered on fresh food, Anderson’s restaurants are attracting a sizable number of customers.
David Atlanta caught up with Mitchell during a rare free moment for the entrepreneur, where we discussed his personal background and what customers can expect from his restaurants.
How did you get into acting, and what led you to get out of show business?
Well, I went to college and majored in Theatre, and then went to Juilliard and started my career back in the mid-eighties and I have had a really good career in television, film and theater for quite a long time. As I was getting into my late 30s I was kind of… I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t want to audition for the rest of my life. I was kinda looking around for other stuff to do. I met my partner, Richie Arpino, and moved to Atlanta, and that was kind of the emphasis, when I was around 40, to seriously find something else to do and leave show business.
How did you get into cooking professionally?
I was always a really good cook, and I enjoyed and do enjoy what food does: bringing people together and fostering conversation. So it was a natural progression, and I had just happened to really luck out and find the exact right person that could teach me, which was Jennifer Levison, who owns Souper Jenny. I was an apprentice with her for a while, for free, and I just came in and worked in the morning, early in the morning, and I kept showing up, and she kept saying, “Really? You’re going to come today, again?” So for about two and a half years, I worked with her, and then when I was ready, she said, “I think you’re ready to open your own place.” That’s when I started MetroFresh, and that was seven years ago.
What prompted you to open MetroFresh?
Well, what I learned with Souper Jenny was sort of, a very creative approach to food. It’s not a recipe-driven way to cook. What I wanted to do was create something that had a very daily creative experience, both on the customer side and the chef side, because if you have a restaurant that changes its menu every single day, it gives people a reason to eat there every single day. And that’s really what I wanted – a really casual place where people could feel like they were walking into my kitchen and I was just in there, making their food.
And I think I did a lot of things well in that regard, because I chose a very small place – which is now somewhat difficult to negotiate, because it’s too small – but right in the beginning, right away it was busy with the neighborhood people because it was something new in the neighborhood and we were doing food that people wouldn’t necessarily get at a quick-service restaurant.
What kinds of foods can customers who come into the store currently expect to find on the menu?
The menu changes every day. We do soups; right now, of course, we’re doing a lot of cold soups, because it’s summertime. We use things that are fresh and in-season, so right now a lot of our [selections include] a lot of different kinds of butter beans and field peas, peaches, and anything that we can get that’s local, we try to do. We just got a list of these really cool local peas that have great names like Misty May and we just create a flavor profile based on sort of what we have. The flavors can go all over the world in any one day. Just last Saturday, I had a case full of different salads, and one of them had a Thai influence, one was Greek, one of them was a little more Tuscan, and one was Moroccan. The whole idea is to give people just this creative flavor palette every day.
MetroFresh opened a second location in 2011. What led you to expand?
The second location is at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and it really came about because the Garden was looking to change the food vendor. We were so close to the Botanical Garden that a lot of the people that make that decision eat at MetroFresh anyway. So they came to me and said, “We’d really like for you to make a proposal,” and I looked at how I wanted to grow, and it was a good opportunity for me. I made a really colorful proposal for what I thought they would like, and that’s how we opened the second location.
Are there any plans you have in the foreseeable future for MetroFresh?
It’s always hard to tell what the future looks like, because we had this other thing we were working on, before the Garden came along, so I worked on this thing for, like, a year and a half, and then the Garden came along and shifted my gears a little bit. I try to work as hard as I can and keep things as current as possible and be open to change and whatever comes along. Specifically, I don’t really know, but I think that there definitely is an interesting future for MetroFresh, and if I can figure out how to run more than two restaurants, I will consider it! But right now, I’m just trying to run two.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
If you haven’t tried our breakfast or dinners, you should, because we’re really known for lunch, but we have an awesome breakfast and dinner.