Behind Robert de Niro's Nobu empire

How Robert De Niro built the Nobu empire
How Robert De Niro built the Nobu empire

Film fans are familiar with Robert De Niro's Oscar-winning roles -- but fewer people know that he is also an astute businessman.

The American actor and director co-founded the first Nobu, an upmarket Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant, in 1994.

Today, De Niro and his co-founders -- celebrity chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa and film producer and entrepreneur Meir Teper -- own 39 restaurants and eight luxury hotels across five continents. Their lifestyle brand Nobu Hospitality was founded in 2009.

The latest additions to the group? Three Nobu Hotels: properties in London's trendy Shoreditch and Ibiza, Spain, opened in 2017, followed by a Marbella hotel, in Spain, this year.

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Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay.

De Niro believes that comparisons can be drawn between his two passions -- the film and hospitality industries.

"They both have budgets, they're creative in different ways. It's like any enterprise. The movies are a business of a sort," he told CNNMoney.

"You have to spend money ... If things are sacrificed too much, too many times, then it somehow suffers."

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It all began 31 years ago, when De Niro stepped foot in Matsuhisa restaurant in Los Angeles.

Originally from Japan, Nobu Matsuhisa worked in Peru and Argentina before moving to the US. He opened Matsuhisa in 1987.

De Niro wanted to convince Matsuhisa to open in his hometown. "I said [to Matsuhisa], if you ever want to open a restaurant in New York, let me know," De Niro told CNNMoney.

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Robert De Niro with his co-founders Nobu Matsuhisa and Meir Teper (left to right).

De Niro, who was already in the restaurant business -- he co-owns the Tribeca Grill in New York City, which opened in 1990 -- introduced Matsuhisa's food to Teper.

In 1994, they opened Nobu, in New York's Tribeca, in 1994. From there, "it just grew and grew," De Niro said.

"[When a] customer comes into my restaurant -- they trust our quality of food," Matsuhisa told CNNMoney.

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What started as a shared love of food soon expanded from the restaurant business into hotels.

"I pushed for the hotel thing because it made common sense -- it was so simple," De Niro said. "Lets just tell the people in certain locations that ... we'll do a restaurant with a hotel, so then people started going along with that. We had nothing to lose."

Nobu Hospitality hopes to reach $1 billion in revenue in the next five years, according to the group.

Currently there are eight hotels in the pipeline. Next on the list is Nobu Residences -- luxury condominiums located atop a Nobu restaurant in Toronto. The development is expected to be completed in late 2019.

Matsuhisa believes that having "very strong teams" means he's ready to "go to the next challenge."

"If you are ever lucky enough to have anything be successful ... make sure you don't short change yourself," said De Niro.

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