Skip to main content

Birth of Nobu – Luxury Hotel and Restaurant Chain Robert De Niro Helped Start

Sushi Chef, Film Producer, and Robert De Niro Started Nobu

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.

The Beginning

Nobu Malibu
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

The Friendship

Nobu founders
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.”

The Hotel

Nobu Hotel
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

The Nobu Mentality

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.”

Latifah Al-Hazza
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Latifah is an Emmy Award-Winning travel journalist and documentary filmmaker, as well as the Cofounder of Femscape Sojourns…
How to cancel HelloFresh temporarily or permanently
Learn how to cancel your HelloFresh subscription today
A HelloFresh meal kit next to a selection of vegetables

Meal kit delivery subscriptions, such as HelloFresh, can be extremely convenient. In fact, we consider HelloFresh to be one of the best meal kit delivery services. With HelloFresh, you can get weekly boxes filled with all the pre-portioned ingredients necessary to make healthy, unique, and varied recipes, along with the instructions and nutrition information for each recipe delivered right to your house. This eliminates the need for weekly menu planning and grocery shopping, plus it simplifies meal preparation, reduces food waste, and introduces you to new dishes and cooking techniques.

Read more
This is how to make a Bloody Bull – a better, beefier Bloody Mary recipe
Here's a different version of a Bloody Mary
Brennan's Bloody Bull.

Born in the great city of New Orleans, the Bloody Bull is the beefier cousin of the Bloody Mary. Treated to some meaty broth, the drink is super savory and begging to accompany your brunch plans.

The original hails from Brennan's, a colorful creole restaurant that's been on the scene since 1946. There are riffs of course, with bartenders treating the drink to everything from a bit of Guinness to a host of different spice blends.

Read more
The best sipping whiskeys, ranked
We ranked the best sipping whiskeys
whiskey

It might seem like an oversimplification, but two kinds of whiskey exist. First are the whisk(e)ys that are cheaper, less mature, and better suited for mixing into your favorite cocktails than drinking on their own. The second kind of whiskey is so complex, nuanced, long-matured, and flavorful that it deserves to be sipped on the rocks or with a splash or two of water. The latter is what we’re most concerned with today.

But that’s not all. For those unaware, whiskey is an all-encompassing term for a variety of whisk(e)ys, including single malt Scotch whisky (only the US and Ireland use the ‘e’ in whiskey), bourbon whiskey, Irish whiskey, rye whiskey, Canadian whisky, Japanese whiskey, and others from all over the world. This means that you have a lot to choose from when it comes to sipping whiskeys.

Read more