No other sushi chef has gained global recognition quite like Nobu Matsuhisa. His flagship restaurant in L.A., Matsuhisa, opened in 1987, and immediately put the chef on the map, attracting a loyal clientele, including plenty of A-list celebrities.
Among those dedicated guests was Robert De Niro, who eventually helped Matsuhisa expand the concept and open the first Nobu restaurant—there are now over 50 locations around the world. In 2013, Matsuhisa and De Niro, along with Nobu co-founder Meir Teper, decided to expand further into hospitality, and ventured into the world of hotels. To start, they partnered with Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to open their first Nobu hotel location, and only grew from there. The brand’s signature Japanese-inspired minimalist and functional design can now be found at 18 Nobu hotels around the world, with 20 more expected to open over the next few years.
2023 marks 10 years since Nobu Hotel opened at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, and for the anniversary, hosted festivities complete with live music, locally-inspired dishes from various Nobu hotels and a VIP after party at the 10,300-square-foot Nobu Villa rooftop. It was a fitting celebration for the Nobu brand, which has long maintained a strong foothold in the luxury travel market with a dedicated following of global jet-setters and celebrities alike.
Observer sat down with chef Nobu Matsuhisa to reflect back on the last decade of Nobu Hospitality and what’s next for the brand.
You’ve been called a trailblazer and pioneer in the world of Japanese cuisine. Let’s go back to 1987, when Matsuhisa first opened. What was it about Matsuhisa that was so avant-garde and innovative at the time?
Back when I opened Matsuhisa in 1987, all of the Japanese restaurants in L.A. were only offering traditional Japanese food. At Matsuhisa, I introduced a new style of Japanese cooking with Peruvian and South American flavors. Dishes like ceviche and tiradito were not widely known in L.A., especially with Japanese food. Guests loved the flavor combinations and just kept coming back for more.
Fast forward to 2013, when you and Robert De Niro decided to open the first Nobu hotel. Why did you choose Caesars Palace as a partner?
We were approached by Caesars Palace to open a Nobu restaurant, and we thought this would be an ideal location to open our first hotel. Many people come through Las Vegas and they know Caesars Palace, as it has been there for a long time, so customers trust it.
I’m sure there were challenges along the way. What is the biggest lesson you learned when branching out into hotels?
Since we opened our first hotel in Las Vegas in 2013, we’ve grown quickly worldwide. We value the local culture in our hotels, but it’s essential to stay true to our initial vision. Each hotel draws inspiration from our restaurant experience, and ensures consistent quality, which is what sets us apart from the competition. This is what our guests expect, so we can’t lose sight of it.
Why do you think the Nobu brand has such a cult-like following today across its restaurants, hotels and residences?
People trust our brand. We’ve been in the hospitality market for almost 30 years, and we have always been focused on creating memorable experiences around food. We are focused on exceptional quality, passionate service from the heart and great design of our restaurants and hotels. Our customers appreciate all these things, and I think that’s why we’ve developed such a loyal following.
Reflecting back on your career, what are you most proud of?
How much my Nobu family has grown. I couldn’t be as successful as I am now if it wasn’t for my team. They have helped me grow my vision, and it is because of them we have 54 restaurants and 38 hotels around the world.
Since you are at the helm of luxury travel, what are some of the trends you’re seeing in the luxury travel space?
There is a growing trend into wellness and lifestyle balance. This is very important to me. When I travel, I prefer simple and healthy meals, which is exactly what Nobu cuisine is. I also like to have a good fitness center in the hotel so I can maintain my fitness routine. All of our hotels have the top equipment and offer 24-hour access for our guests. Having the latest technology is important to our customers and we make sure that our hotels are equipped with the best.
What’s next for Nobu hospitality?
We [already] entered into the residential space. We just launched the Nobu Residences in Los Cabos earlier this year. We also look forward to welcoming residents in our Nobu Residences Toronto at the end of November . We have more residences under development in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Al Khobar, Da Nang, Tulum, Orlando, Punta Cana, Sao Paulo, Cairo and North Coast Egypt.
What do you look for when deciding on your next location?
We look for places where we know we can attract a local customer for the restaurant. Local business is very important to us, as we want to have loyal customers in the surrounding area.
How or where do you find inspiration?
I am inspired by the next generation of chefs and managers who are passionate about culinary arts and hospitality. Their excitement and thirst for knowledge motivate me to want to do more. I learn as much from them as they learn from me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.