De Niro and Nobu: the origin story
FT Globetrotter meets actor Robert De Niro, celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa and film producer Meir Teper to hear about how they started Nobu Matsuhisa's eponymous sushi restaurants, how the business navigated the pandemic, fears about inflation and which city in the world they think has the best restaurants
Interview by Niki Blasina. Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Edited by Richard Topping. Produced by Niki Blasina, Daniel Garrahan and Rebecca Rose
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Robert, would you mind just giving us a cut?
You've done this before.
I was in Matsuhisa Nobu's restaurant in LA. Roland Joffe, the English director, took me there one night. And after being there a half an hour of that, I told him, if you ever want us to open a restaurant in New York, let me know. And that's how it all started, really.
Then he gave to me the chance, and also involved Meir. And we had the good teams. And first my New York restaurant huge success. I am a chef. I think about how makes guests happy. So it means best product, good food, good service. I like the people working with my restaurant. I want to be happy to everyone. Happy makes them more bigger.
When Nobu said I'm ready now to do New York, Bob asked me if I would like to invest. And I said, sure. Nobu's first restaurant was called Matsuhisa, which is his last name, in Los Angeles. And I said, why don't we call the restaurant in New York also Matsuhisa because it already has a name? And Bob said no.
We'll just call it Nobu. It's much easier.
Nobuyuki is his full name. I said, let's call Nobu. It's simple.
Years later, we opened another store, opened up as in addition to the restaurant, and we didn't know how to call it. And we said, how are we going to call this restaurant next door? And Bob said, why don't we call it Nobu Next Door? Then we thought about doing another one around the corner. We were going to...
Nobu around the corner.
Nobu around the corner.
My basic menus all over the restaurant are the same. We use local product as much as possible. And especially here London, we have Scottish salmon, scallops, lobsters, even the Dover sole. Very unique product we cannot get in the United States, even Japan, Australia.
Each restaurant, the chefs create the new dishes, then I come work it together. Then, finally, make on the menu for the, especially, Nobu London's special dishes. Nobu Australia special dishes. Nobu Tokyo, special dishes. That's why I travel in the 10 months a year to see the chefs.
2020 when the pandemic was in...
...full swing, thank you. Yeah, and there was no cure. There was no vaccines. And most of the restaurants and the hotels were closed. We survived and we actually kept most of our employees working. And then when we reopened, we did so well. Customers just came back.
We have a very good customer support between the pandemic. Some people also like to order almost every day. So now business better than before pandemic now.
With inflation, we have to pay more to buy the materials, the food. We have to raise prices. People have started to think about it's too expensive to go out, so I'm concerned. But, so far, we haven't felt it in our business.
For me, best meal in the world is Tokyo.
Is that because there are a lot of different restaurants, or just the Japanese...
Because Tokyo, we can get the best product. So fish, meat, vegetable, even the fruits.
To me, the best city would be New York. There's a certain excitement in New York and an energy with the best chefs trying to make it in New York. And there are some great ones, even in Brooklyn, and all over that open up all the time. And I wish I could go, but they're good. I hear about them a lot.
I cook at home. Every Sunday, I do a pasta for the family and some... we invite friends. And so I cook it every Sunday.
Between the pandemic, I stay home. I love it because the same routines every day. So breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So three meals. And, one day, I cook. Next day, my wife cook. I cook home. Very happy to be better than restaurants because we not necessarily think about the food cost, how much is the price. Home cooking is, for me, the most comfortable.
I don't cook, but we have good food. Someone cooks at home.
He makes a nice Martini for the shakers.