Though Kate Sidell is known for her wonderful restaurants, and her family’s contribution to great dining in Boston, the restaurant business was actually her second choice.
Sidell, who will accept the Restaurateur of the Year Award from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA) on Monday, Feb. 26, said she actually fell back on her first love – that being the restaurant business – after an exciting career in film.
“I actually went to Columbia Film School and I had a wonderful film career for several years,” she said. “At the age of 47, I had a career change and left film to open the Met Club in Chestnut Hill. That was in 2004 and was the beginning of my second career.”
Sidell owns Met Restaurant Group, which consists of Met Back Bay, Met Bar & Grill Dedham, Met Bar & Grill Natick, Met on Main in Nantucket and the award-winning new Saltie Girl in Back Bay. Additionally, her sister Stephanie Sokolove has operated the Stephanie’s restaurants in Back Bay, South End and South Boston for more than 20 years. The two combined their companies just this year into Sidell Hospitality.
And the family food tradition, Sidell said, began with her father, Jack Sidell, who was a Boston businessman who financed and launched the careers of many successful and famous chefs here.
That, Sidell said, was probably the thing that put the love of food in her, and caused her to step away from her film career.
“I have long been very passionate about food since I was a little kid and grew up in a household that was food-centric,” she said. “My dad was a banker and helped to launch a lot of restaurants. I kind of grew up in an environment where we had people in the restaurant business coming to the house to audition for money and capital to start their businesses. So, I grew up around the restaurant business…That was exciting as a young adult to be around.”
Sidell said while being inspired by that, she was also inspired by her sister’s restaurant businesses. While she advanced her film career, she kept a watchful eye on her sister, too.
Then, in 2004, a corner space in Chestnut Hill opened up when a venture by Todd English and Jack Sidell didn’t materialize. For Kate Sidell, it was now or never.
“That was the beginning,” she said. “My dad said if I was ever going to really get into the business, that was the time.”
From there she expanded to Natick and Dedham and went into the Back Bay in 2010. She opened up the unique, fish-oriented Saltie Girl in 2016 – and it has already gathered great momentum and following.
She said the transition from film to food hasn’t been all that different, as she said it’s about motivating people.
“The reality is it’s very similar in terms of the skill set needed to do my job,” she said. “You’re trying to keep a group of people motivated to be on the same page…I think it’s about leadership, to be honest. That’s the same set of skills you need as a producer on a film set or when you’re making a commercial…One difference is the film business is project oriented and the restaurant business doesn’t end. It’s seven days a week and all hours of the week.”
That, however, isn’t a distraction for Sidell. She said it’s a tremendous commitment to run her business, but she’s all in.
“Yea, I’m in it; it’s my life,” she said. “I love how unpredictable it is. Whether it’s scrubbing a toilet, pressing a napkin, fixing a water leak or dealing with any other unforeseen situation, that’s what I like…I was never routine oriented. I love that in the restaurant business you don’t know what the day will bring. I do not crave predictability. I have zero interest for that in my life.”
But getting to the heart of the matter, Sidell enjoys food and talking about food. Whether it’s in her own restaurants or in Chinatown at 2 a.m., she enjoys good food.
She said she has always been a fan of places in Chinatown, and enjoys sesame noodles, crispy chicken and dumplings.
“There aren’t too many places you can go to at 2 a.m. and get great food,” she added. “We live in town, and we go there all the time. There’s one place that has the Alaskan king crab done six different ways. That is stellar. It’s such a privilege.”
However, right now she said she’s thinking a lot about French cuisine, which she said Boston hasn’t warmed up to yet. She said she looks forward to the opening of the Mistral-owned Bar Lyon that will soon open in the South End and hopes it can be the breakthrough.
“There aren’t many choices in our city,” she said. “I don’t think Boston has really embraced French food so much. Maybe it just hasn’t been made right…I am really excited about Bar Lyon for that reason. I can’t wait for that.”
As for her award by the MRA, she said it wasn’t even on her radar, but she will be excited to accept it at Monday’s awards ceremony in the Seaport.
“I am grateful and think that in this time of #metoo that it was a good move by the MRA to choose a female restaurateur to honor,” she said. “Hats off to the MRA for choosing a female restaurateur that operates a formidable business in Boston. That’s uber-cool.”