While most have come to know the Nobu brand through their sushi restaurants, the concept of Nobu hotels came to be in 1989, the year after Chef Nobu met Robert DeNiro in his restaurant Matsuhisa in Los Angeles. At the time, Chef Nobu didn’t realize who DeNiro was and treated him as he would any of his guests. As the two got to know each other through the years, DeNiro noted that hotels that opened Nobu restaurants seemed to also gain stronger reputations for the property itself. Seeing the synergies between the two, DeNiro suggested they open their own hotels, instead of placing Nobu restaurants inside of someone else’s hotels.
Like many in the hospitality business, Chef Nobu’s story begins with an apprenticeship, working at a sushi restaurant in his birthplace, Japan. He was first inspired while dining at a sushi restaurant with his brother where he had the chance to observe the chefs. Matsuhisa was fascinated to watch how they not only prepared the food but also how they interacted with the guests. It was then and there that he decided he wanted to work in the business.
Before Chef Nobu found success (and later fame) in the Los Angeles’ restaurant scene, he moved from Japan to South America, where he had two failed restaurant attempts, including one in Peru where he began to mix a variety of non-traditional Japanese flavors into his cuisine. This has now become the hallmark of his culinary style. He later faced what he notes as being the greatest challenge in his life: watching his not-two week old restaurant in Alaska go up in flames. In spite of it all, and motivated by his wife Yoko and his family, Chef Nobu came to find the success for which he is now acclaimed. A man who is humble about his achievements, Matsuhisa says he would not have gotten to this level without the team behind him, which he says has become like a family to him. His advice: “Keep moving forward, even if it's just a millimeter a day.”