Lights, Camera, Nobu
Nobu shareholders Robert De Niro, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Meir Teper plan to take the Japanese restaurant brand to hotels.
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
Photography by Jeffrey Mosier
With 23 restaurants in five continents and 21 cities, Nobu's shareholders—Robert De Niro, Nobu Matsuhisa, and Meir Teper—have turned a Japanese restaurant into a culinary phenomenon with more than three million customers each year. Now with the help of hotel veterans Trevor Horwell and Struan McKenzie, they plan on taking Nobu to the next level: hotels. In a rare interview, the five of them, now Nobu Hospitality, sat down with HD to talk recreating theater, timeless spaces, and passion. Here are extra tidbits from the interview that was featured in the August issue.
HD: What are the particular satisfactions of creating spaces and doing them well?
Robert De Niro: I like to do it. I wouldn't say it's a hobby; it's just something I like to do. I like to come here [Locanda Verde] and eat dinner, go to Nobu and eat dinner; they are places I would go to. The restaurant Locanda Verde, we had Ago before, it just didn't work, so we brought in these other guys. It's the way it should be, the way we wanted it—part of the community, it's warm, a lot of activity, and No. 1 the food is good.
HD: You came into Tribeca before many other restaurants were here. Is that something you would do with Nobu hotels, go into an area that is more up and coming than overrun?
RD: If it was an area that had great space, an area where you see the potential, an equivalent of Tribeca or Brooklyn, of course, absolutely, you have more latitude to what you are doing, what you can create. That is an ideal situation. Tribeca was not the way it was today. I started working on my place in '78, '79, and there was nothing.
HD: How did Tribeca Grill get started?
Meir Teper: It was more Bob's idea. I remember when Bob and I used to travel together he used to have his favorite restaurants. Wherever he went it became popular, because people wanted to see the celebrities and they think if Bob De Niro goes there, it has to be good.
MT: So that's how the idea came, he says, 'Why don’t I open my own restaurant.' That’s how Tribeca Grill started.
RD: I liked the idea of opening the Grill in the building, and Drew Nieporent [his operating partner], he was a couple blocks away at [another restaurant], and I thought well that makes sense, he can run that one and this one together. It seemed right, and I've always been curious about restaurants.
HD: It must have been amazing to see transformation.
RD: I like the way Tribeca has developed opposed to Soho, which is so busy.
MT: This is more of a neighborhood.
HD: You have a knack for finding unbelievable locations. Is there anything you look for or is just a feeling?
RD: You know when you see a location. You know it's great. This is something [the lot for the Greenwich Hotel] I bought because it was right next door to film center. It was a lot, and I didn't want it to be taken over by someone else. I said I just have to get the land and hold on to it. It wasn't easy. It was either a hotel or extension of film center.
HD: For Nobu hotels, what do you see as your competitive set? How do you think it will set itself apart?
Trevor Horwell: I think what we want to do like Bob says, one, we want to do something special. If you want to compete in the luxury hotel space, we don't want to do 400-, 500-room boxes; then you lose that exclusivity. They have to be special, so you can do that with 100 rooms, up to 200, 250 rooms. Way we look at the competition is that there is like Bob was saying, a certain amount of money you can pay for the product and we are cognizant of that. But at the same time, if you create a special environment, people will pay to go to that special environment—that's how you raise your price point. We are competing in the hotel space between maybe Four Seasons and the other boutique names, and we have a great respect for everyone else and what they are doing. But I think we are going to create something that is special and fun. I think that is what Nobu is today. It is an environment that people want to go to.
Struan McKenzie: Really there aren't many other luxury lifestyle brands that are in 15 countries, five continents, for almost 20 years.
TH: Every one has to bespoke.
HD: There will be underlying feel, but not the same.
SM: It's about quality. Getting the special assets.
Top left: Struan McKenzie, Meir Teper, Robert De Niro, and Trevor Horwell. Top right: Nobu Matsuhisa