Newton Native Kathy Sidell "Met" with Success in Food and Film
Kathy Sidell, owner of the Metropolitan Club in Chestnut Hill and four other MET restaurants, talks about how being from Newton has shaped her career as a film producer and restaurateur.
The word metropolitan can mean “characteristic of a metropolis in accepting and combining a wide variety of people and ideas.” So it’s no wonder Kathy Sidell chose to name the restaurants in her “collection” (she prefers this term to “chain”) with variations on Metropolitan Club.
The group includes the original on Route 9 in Chestnut Hill, MET Bar and Grill outposts at The Natick Collection and at Legacy Place in Dedham, MET Back Bay, and the newest member, MET on Main in Nantucket.
But as diverse as the locations of the restaurants are, they all reflect Sidell’s upbringing on Baldpate Hill Road right here in Newton.
“I worked extra hard at being accessible, real, earthy,” Sidell explains. “I didn’t want the fact that I came from a wealthy family to in any way color how people saw me. I realized that it didn’t really buy happiness and that I preferred a wide range of people.”
Sidell’s father, Jack, is a legend in the Boston restaurant scene. According to his 2007 obituary in the Boston Globe, Jack was the financial entrepreneur behind such notable Boston restaurants as Au Bon Pain, Charley’s, Davio’s, Hammersley’s Bistro and Olives. And Sidell’s sister, Stephanie Sidell Sokolove is famous for her restaurants, Stephanie’s on Newbury and Stephi’s on Tremont.
Yet initially, Sidell eschewed entering the restaurant world, much to Jack’s dismay.
“When I spent my junior year at UCLA, I really wanted to stay in Los Angeles,” recalls Sidell. “My parents didn’t understand that world at all. I didn’t really have their blessing or support. My father said to me when I got into Columbia Film School, ‘You’re on your own. I’m not paying for that.’ He just didn’t get it.”
For many years after her graduation from Columbia Film School, Sidell was a successful Hollywood producer. She helped start Chelsea Pictures, the studio responsible for the acclaimed documentary Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (among other projects).
But eventually, the luster of Hollywood wore off a bit. Parental pressure now proved more compelling, and Sidell returned to her native Boston and embraced the family’s love of restaurants.
Yet ever her own person, Sidell wanted to create her own brand and make her own mark on the Boston restaurant scene. In 2005, Sidell took over the Chestnut Hill spot formerly occupied by her father's bistro, Pomme Frites, and turned it into the Metropolitan Club.
In the past seven years and in spite of the economy, Sidell has done the almost unthinkable in opening an additional four highly successful restaurants. She remains on the lookout for more locations (in the greater Boston area and maybe in her beloved LA) that will still meet her goal for what she wants the Met restaurants to be.
“I really do think our restaurants, and this is deliberate, hit all demographics and all generations,” Sidell muses. “I wanted to create an environment that was sophisticated but affordable. There is something to be learned from someone who has nothing, and there is something to be learned from someone who has everything.”
Not content to be a successful restaurateur and a lauded producer (she is currently involved in bringing Neil Gaiman’s cult classic novel American Gods to HBO), Sidelll has added “author” to her resume.
When I MET Food hit the bookshelves last month and is currently earning 5-star reviews on Amazon.com. Sidell describes her book as “deeply personal, not strictly a business book, a collective experience.” And while she did have “a strong editor to help organize [her] thoughts,” the book was written almost exclusively by Sidell herself.
“When my best friends read it, they say it sounds just like me. I mean, though, why wouldn’t it?!” she says with a chuckle.
The whole country got to hear Sidell’s actual voice when she and MET Back Bay made an appearance on Food Network’s Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell. It was just tremendous serendipity that the show’s producer walked by Sidell’s restaurant and asked if she wanted to be a part of the show right at a time when MET Back Bay was in need of a new chef. And while the winner of the contest didn’t take the position due to “a family situation,” Sidell says that the entire experience was a great deal of fun.
While having fun may not be the top of her lengthy to-do list, Sidell does know what is important to her as she remains “in the thick of it.”
“Running and growing this restaurant group and finding the next opportunity,” states Sidell when talking about her future plans. “I feel very fortunate and keeping my eye on the ball is what’s next for me. I need to have my finger right on the pulse.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect information. Neither Kathy Sidell nor Todd English were involved with the Pomme Frites bistros. [Dec. 14, 11:55 a.m.]