Nobu’s Secret: CEO Lays Out Plan For 80 Luxury Hotels

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Nobu, the posh restaurant chain, is expanding its luxury hotels brand. The secret sauce? Sky-high revenue from their in-house restaurants, Robert De Niro’s star power, and a culture that keeps top talent sticking around, says top exec Trevor Horwell.

The first Nobu, a new-wave Japanese restaurant, opened in New York 30 years ago this year. The brand keeps expanding, with about 50 restaurants worldwide.

In 2013, it debuted Nobu Hotels as a brand extension, opening a Las Vegas property within Caesars Palace. This month, Nobu announced plans for its 40th hotel, expected to open in Ho Chi Minh in 2026.

“We’ll have 80 hotels within the next five years, easily,” said Trevor Horwell, CEO of Nobu Hospitality.

Skift spoke with Horwell to learn Nobu Hotels’ game plan.

nobu marrakech hotelnobu marrakech hotel
Nobu’s Marrakech Hotel and Restaurant. Source: Nobu Hotels

Nobu Hotels’ robust track record

Horwell made an indirect case that his hotel brand has performed well financially.

  • “We have a great business algorithm, and the P&L [profit-and-loss sheet] sells [the brand to developers],” Horwell said. “At Nobu, we make as much on an average restaurant seat as we do in a hotel room.”
  • “In Vegas, we opened our first hotel in 2013,” he said. “The results were good in 2013 and even better now.”
  • “We haven’t closed any hotels or restaurants in over three decades,” he said. “Even after 30 years, the brand continuously brings in a consistent customer pool.”
  • “The typical percentage of non-guests driving the revenue at the restaurant at a Nobu Hotel is between 70% and 80%,” he said.
  • Marquee investors keep partnering with Nobu Hotels. This month, Caesars Entertainment tapped Nobu to build a 54-unit Nobu Hotel on two floors of its Caesars Tower in New Orleans. Last year, Thailand’s giant real estate group Asset World agreed to create two Nobu hotels, including a Plaza Athénée Nobu Hotel expected to open in 2026.
  • The brand is strong enough that last year it expanded into branded residences, with offerings in Toronto, Canada (with a dozen sold) and Los Cabos, Mexico. A penthouse at Nobu Residences Abu Dhabi recently sold for $37.3 million, the priciest apartment ever sold in the emirate. Nine other branded residences are in the works worldwide.
Nobu's Santorini hotel and restaurant opened in June 2022 nobu hotelsNobu's Santorini hotel and restaurant opened in June 2022 nobu hotels
Nobu’s Santorini Hotel and Restaurant opened in June 2022. Source: Nobu Hotels.

Robert De Niro: “I want it to be special”

Nobu’s co-founders, Nobu Matsuhisa, Robert De Niro, and Meir Teper saw the power of the brand early on. Many hotels asked Nobu to run restaurants in them, which made the shareholders aware of the potential for a hotel brand extension.

“Bob De Niro basically said, ‘Let’s do it ourselves,’” Horwell said.

Horwell had helped to create the Hard Rock hotel brand with Struan McKenzie. They also worked at Hyatt. They left in 1997 to create a lifestyle hotel in Europe called Como Metropolitan London, which housed the first Nobu restaurant outside of the U.S. Then Nobu tapped them to create Nobu Hotels.

“We spent about two years without an office,” Horwell said, about McKenzie and himself. “We operated out of a Starbucks.”

Trevor Horwell ceo nobu hospitalityTrevor Horwell ceo nobu hospitality
CEO Trevor Horwell. Source: Nobu.

The shareholders wanted a distinctive translation of the Nobu experience.

“Bob said, ‘I want it to be special,’” according to Horwell. “‘You do what you do,’ he said. ‘Whoever calls it cool, that’s fine.’”

That message was translated into a recipe for hiring smart people who think clearly about how to prioritize Nobu’s luxury customers.

“We have about six to seven million customers at our restaurants each year, and we know what they like,” said Horwell, who added that his team closely monitors customer feedback.

Exterior front of Nobu's hotel in Palo Alto, California. Source: Nobu HotsExterior front of Nobu's hotel in Palo Alto, California. Source: Nobu Hots
Nobu’s hotel in Palo Alto, California. Source: Nobu Hotels.

Sustaining Nobu Hotels’ culture

Horwell feels strongly about the importance of company culture for retaining talent.

“We want people who take professional pride in their work, even if it’s breakfast or room service,” he said.

Horwell lists the names of multiple people who have stayed with the company for decades, often rising through the ranks. One reason he’s eager to expand Nobu Hotels is because the bigger the footprint, the more opportunities for employees to advance: Restaurant managers moving into selling and managing events, for example.

Horwell also cites Nobu Hotels’ relative lack of corporate bureaucracy. “We work very hard to pick the best general managers, and at each location, they drive the culture, sales, and marketing,” Horwell said.

Anyone who has watched the recent hit TV show The Bear may question how healthy the culture can be in a high-end restaurant.

“Kitchen teams work very hard on everything from cooking to presentation,” Horwell said. “But we don’t see a high turnover of people in our kitchens, and that speaks volumes.”

nobu hotel Marrakechnobu hotel Marrakech
Nobu Hotel Marrakech. Source: Nobu.

Future plans

Horwell is confident about the company’s growth. “We don’t need capital to grow to 70 or 80 hotels,” he said. “Our existing partner network of real estate investors can put up all we need.”

Will Nobu Hotels dilute its brand if it gets too big? Some analysts reckon that having more than a few dozen ultra-luxury hotels leads to brand dilution as quality control suffers.

“We’re only really in the U.S. and Europe and have just started in Asia,” Horwell said. “There are still many cities worldwide that support luxury customers that don’t yet have a Nobu in them.”

“But we don’t want just to plant flags,” Horwell said. “Many of these big brands just go and plant flags because they’re stock-market driven. We’re not. We’re scaling carefully.”

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