Sometimes two elements come together so seamlessly, it makes you wonder why they haven’t been together all along. Such is the partnership between the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Mitchell Anderson’s eatery MetroFresh, which opened its second location at the garden in the beginning of March.
During his nearly 20-year acting career, Anderson appeared on popular TV shows such as Party of Five, Doogie Howser M.D. and films such as Jaws: The Revenge and SpaceCamp (just to name a few). When he decided to leave Los Angeles and make Atlanta his home, he also decided to leave acting behind for a while and concentrate on his new passion: cooking. Anderson found himself under the tutelage of Chef Jennifer Levison, and after a stint in her kitchen, he decided to strike out on his own and make the dream of owning his own restaurant a reality. Soon Anderson’s venture really took off and he found himself as busy as ever. “I love (owning a restaurant), and part of my desire to change careers was to have something to do every day. Be careful what you wish for!”
The Green Beginning
At first glance you might not see how a restaurant and a garden could have similar aims. However, when you hear it from Anderson, you start to see it unfold. “Getting this opportunity to partner with the garden exactly fits what MetroFresh’s mission is,” he explains. “We said, ‘let us be a permanent exhibit.’ We’ll be the part of your day where you get to taste what’s in the garden.” When you come down to it, both establishments aim to create a healthy experience for patrons through all five senses with MetroFresh being the taste portion of your visit. “We want to not just be a place to get some food, but also a place to interact and really be part of your whole experience at the garden.”
In addition to the fresh, ever-changing menu that is part of the allure of the restaurant, the new location will also have an interactive element for kids. Challenged with creating a prepackaged snack, a requirement made by the health department, Anderson looked for a way to make those snacks healthy. The solution was a GORP (also known as trail mix) station containing a row of canisters that hold different varieties of nuts and fruit. The easy-to-use system allows kids to make their own healthy bag of snacks to carry around with them. “The station is also informative,” Anderson says, “The wall behind the station will have fun facts about what the kids are eating so it’s engaging as well.”
A Good Foundation
This kind of attention to detail is just part of the reason why MetroFresh has enjoyed a successful five-year run and is still going strong. Another important factor is the passion that Anderson brings to everything he does and a vision to continuously create a healthy oasis for his patrons. “(MetroFresh) is a very community-driven restaurant,” says Anderson, “We have people that come to eat at MetroFresh five days a week, and they are part of our family. I always loved food and what food does – namely bringing people together.” And come together they do. Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, there is always a sizable crowd at MetroFresh all waiting to try whatever new dishes may be on the menu. Anderson credits his mentor Chef Jenny Levison for helping him learn more about the restaurant business. “Souper Jenny taught me to treat the business as you would your home. You invite people in and want them to feel welcome,” he explains, “She also taught me to keep it local and personal – and to have a sense of humor.”
From the Kitchen to the Home
Staying healthy in both his professional life and his personal life is something that Anderson strives for. “When I was acting, I worked out five days a week, because I had a lot of free time between auditions,” explains Anderson, whose exercise regime today doesn’t really consist of rigorous time spent at the gym, but instead around the kitchen lifting heavy pots of soup and crates of fresh vegetables and running around the city to find the freshest ingredients for his dishes. Anderson credits eating a healthy diet as part of his secret for staying fit. “I eat right and stay active. I am not able to go to the gym but I am active every day. I also think positivity is key to a healthy life,” he says. One of the ways Anderson stays active is involving himself in charity work. Last year he participated in the Celebrity Dance Challenge Dance for Self-Esteem with EDIN (The Eating Disorders Information Network). “One of my resolutions is to make the time to do something non-work related,” he explains. “But I still love what I do! My favorite part of my job is definitely the people who walk through the door. We are lucky to have great energy coming our way every single day.”
Mitchell Anderson dishes on healthy living
Have you always been a healthy eater and conscious of your diet?
I have always enjoyed good food. Even as a child we ate really great fresh food – much of which literally came from farm stands on the side of the road.
How long have you lived in Atlanta and what is your opinion on its restaurant scene?
I’ve lived in Atlanta officially for 10 years and unofficially for almost 15. I think the restaurants here are great. There’s always something new and exciting, and the old favorites are great.
How do you balance your busy schedule?
Basically, I don’t! And I wish I could. The restaurant keeps me very busy and it always seems like there’s one more thing to do. I love it, and part of my desire to change careers was to have something to do every day. Be careful what you wish for!
What is your recipe for staying active, involved and energetic?
I really do have a lot of energy for someone of my advanced age (49). I think I’m just lucky in a way, but I try to get enough sleep, eat right, and worry about only the things I can control. I do get overwhelmed and stressed, but I try as hard as I can to work step by step. My first business advisor, Allen Jones, told me to do one task, then another, then another, and surprise, suddenly you’re done.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I think my business for sure, but more than that, I am most proud that I have created a loving home with my partner of 14 years. I always say that if I were to die today, my friends and family can rest assured that during my life I knew love, joy, and kindness.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I love cooking Thai foods. Last night I made my favorite seared salmon with a great stir fry, Thai Chili sauce with coconut! I even put a little avocado in it.
What do you do on your days off?
I usually go to Lake Hartwell with Richie and our dog Schotzi. Or I read the New York Times and lie on the couch.
Are you officially done with acting or are there any projects you can see yourself doing in the future?
I won’t audition ever again. If something came up and I could work it into my schedule I would consider it. I love acting and I don’t think you ever really lose the love of it. I get excited when I see something really good – that’s the only time I miss it.
What inspires you?
Joy and kindness.