Checking in with Nobu Matsuhisa: Talks about Robert De Niro partnership, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison

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Nobu Matsuhisa

Just blame Bobby. That’s Nobu Matsuhisa’s thought when it comes to the inevitable success of his latest project, his first-ever Nobu Hotel. “Bobby”, of course, is none other than Nobu’s longtime friend and business partner Robert De Niro. “Bobby” is right: the new luxury hotel located inside Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace is already such a hit since officially opening April 28 that the duo are now opening locations in Riyadh, London and Bahrain. The 64-year-old Japanese restaurateur now discusses his foray into the hotel business, his 25-year friendship with “Bobby” and what he’s got cooking outside of the kitchen with Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison.

We have a lot of restaurants inside of luxury hotels in places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, Miami, London and Australia. My business partner Robert De Niro knows a lot about hotels; he opened the Greenwich Hotel in New York City. Opening the Nobu Hotel was Bob’s idea. He said ‘If we open Nobu restaurants inside other people’s hotels, why don’t we do our own?'”

How did the Nobu Hotel come to be?
We have a lot of restaurants inside of luxury hotels in places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, Miami, London and Australia. My business partner Robert De Niro knows a lot about hotels; he opened the Greenwich Hotel in New York City. Opening the Nobu Hotel was Bob’s idea. He said ‘If we open Nobu restaurants inside other people’s hotels, why don’t we do our own?’ The idea came from him. We had teams traveling all around the world to see if there was interest in a Nobu Hotel. We started talking to Caesars Palace, and so we finally did it.

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You and Robert clearly work well together. How do you make your partnership work?
Bob and I know how to communicate. Nobu operations are bigger than before because we talk. We have good communication and a good friendship. We’ve been friends for 25 years now – a quarter century. He lived in New York and loved my food. One day he stopped by and asked to help me open a restaurant in NYC. 25 years later, here we are.

Now that you’ve opened one hotel chain, will you do another?
Larry Ellison and I are planning something next to the Nobu Malibu property. Larry wants to try for a Japanese concept hotel. They say it’s going to start construction in September. He already has a design, but it won’t start being built until later this year.

What prompted you to re-open a restaurant in Malibu?
I used to have a location in Malibu at Cross Creek but we decided to move it to the beach because of Larry Ellison. Larry invited us to come see his new location, and then we started talking about projects based in Malibu. We had our soft opening last October. We now have a beautiful restaurant on the beach with incredible atmosphere. The food is good, the restaurant is beautiful, the service is good and so Nobu Malibu has become a big success.

How did Larry Ellison come on board in the first place?
He loves Nobu. The first time I met him in one of my restaurants was a long time ago. He loves Japan and he loves Nobu’s food – he likes the sashimi and crispy rice best, but really likes everything — so we had something like a marriage. We moved to his property and he supports us.

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When you’re not at a Nobu restaurant somewhere in the world, where do you like to eat?
My manager in Milan, Claudio, his girlfriend has a restaurant called the Paper Moon. It’s very comfortable, very small. I also love Giacomo in Milan. When I’m in LA, I go to Spago because the chef is a friend of mine. I don’t have much time to go restaurants [that aren’t my own]. I don’t go out much.

You’ve appeared in a handful of Hollywood films. Any plans to return to the movie business?   
I was in Casino, Austin Powers 3 and Memoirs of a Geisha and just finished The Girl From Nagasaki, but it’s not coming to theaters for a while. The director, Michel Comte, is one of my customers and he asked me to appear in one of his films. We talked, talked, talked and finally this came about. I get to sword fight in the film. No one taught me, I taught myself. I just used my imagination. But making movies is not my job. The kitchen is much more comfortable to me.

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