What is popular, delicious, and highly sought after? Nobu. You may have never dined at or slept in a Nobu location, but chances are you have heard of this luxe establishment. Founded in 1994 by Nobu Matsuhisa, Robert De Niro, and Meir Teper, and with operations spanning five continents, the Nobu brand thrives in many of the world’s capital cities as the ultimate destination lifestyle experience. The first Nobu restaurant opened in 1994 in New York, and the first hotel opened in Las Vegas in 2013.
What’s the story behind this global luxury brand that is built on service, image, and reputation? Nobuyuki (“Nobu”) Matsuhisa never had the goal of building a world-renowned empire. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a sushi chef after his brother took him to a sushi restaurant in their home country of Japan. By the age of 18, Nobu was working as a chef at a family-run sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Later, a customer who frequented the restaurant asked him to open a sushi restaurant in Peru.
Three years after Nobu took the opportunity in Peru, the partnership failed. In 1977, a friend asked if he would open a restaurant in Anchorage. Nobu said yes, but after a little over a month, the restaurant burned down. Shortly afterward, Nobu accepted a job at a small restaurant in Los Angeles. In 1987, with a loan from a friend, Nobu opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills.
With Hollywood elites coming in and out of the restaurant, a high-profile celebrity was bound to recognize Nobu’s talent. Sure enough, in 1988, Robert De Niro dined at Matsuhisa, fell in love with the restaurant, and approached Nobu about opening a branch in New York City.
“It was the first time I had experienced gold leaf on food,” De Niro said.
In 1994, Nobu finally agreed to partner with De Niro and film producer Meir Teper to open the first-ever Nobu in New York’s Financial District. It gained instant popularity. While the food choices at Nobu and Matsuhisa are very similar, Nobu can seat more and has a very chic aesthetic.
How Matsuhisa, De Niro, Teper work together as a team is a question asked by many. Drawing on the strengths and talents of each member of the group, the trio has always split up the work to run the brand. Matsuhisa is, of course, the star chef, while De Niro specializes in promotions and Teper deals with necessary negotiations. Teper exclaimed, “You have to have friendship, love, and compromising, just like any other relationship. We have been together for 28 years now. It’s like a marriage. First, you love each other.”
It’s beautiful how the three get along. During our exclusive interview with the founders, Nobu stated, “We have no secrets. We have opinions, and we talk.” Mer added, “De Niro is the most loyal friend you could have.”
A thriving restaurant wasn’t the limit for this trio. De Niro wanted to create a place where people would want to stay. Nobu Hotel was De Niro’s vision. Today there are 13 Nobu Hotels around the world in Barcelona, Chicago, Ibiza, Los Cabos, Malibu, Marbella, Manila, Miami Beach, Palo Alto, Warsaw, and two areas of London (Shoreditch and Portman Square). New Nobu Hotels are in development for Al Khobar, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Hamburg, Madrid, Marrakech, New Orleans, Riyadh, Rome, Toronto, San Sebastian, Santorini, Sao Paulo, and Tel Aviv, all with the same sleek aesthetic as the restaurants.
Although Nobu Matsuhisa didn’t intentionally set out to build a multi-million-dollar business, and though he was hit with several setbacks, he did the best he could with the cards he was dealt. Today, he heads a hotel and restaurant empire with 50 locations across five continents. The celebrity chef has even made movie cameos and has been shouted out in rap songs.
The ultra-humble, incredibly smiley chef exclaimed, “Because people support [us], I would like to [give] support back to the cities. We don’t worry about the money; we want to make people happy. If we make people happy, the money will come after. The smile on customers; faces and their laughter is what we want. It’s a win, win, win.”