Chef Nobu is cutting out clutter

An Interview with Nobu Matsuhisa, chef and owner of Matsuhisa and Nobu restaurants.

By Katie Benner, Fortune reporter

(Fortune Magazine) -- Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa - known to glitterati around the globe simply as "Nobu" - runs a multimillion-dollar empire that encompasses 18 restaurants in 14 cities, from Hong Kong to Hawaii. This year alone he's adding four new botes to his Peruvian-Japanese influenced enterprise.

Beyond maintaining a grueling travel schedule, his main professional challenges include keeping in constant touch with his management team and making sure his signature dishes taste and look the same across the world.

The 58-year-old Japanese sushi king, who has partnered with actor-director Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent on several spots, sat down with Fortune's Katie Benner to talk about how he keeps his celebrity clientele well coddled as he dishes out his famous codfish with miso.

Run your business like a marriage

Businesses that run well are almost like marriages. Everything has to be up for discussion, or there will be real problems. My partners and my employees need to feel that they can bring any subject to the table. If I notice someone is acting strange, I will ask what's going on. I don't want to find out later that someone had a problem and hear them say, "Nobu, I didn't want to bother you."

Eat in sync with the time zone

It's not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night and not know where I am. I take sleep medication to deal with all the flights. But I find it helps to eat at the same time every day.

Limit your gadgets

I can live without a computer. My assistant checks my e-mails. I don't want to start using a BlackBerry - I'll never be able to make my time my own. But I have three cell phones - one for the U.S., one for Japan and one for Europe. I turn them off when I go to sleep, but of course they have voicemail. And I depend on my knife and cutting board. My favorite knife is from Miyakoya in Japan - I have one in each of my restaurants.

Have friends who understand your business

Kenny G. used to live close to my first restaurant in Los Angeles, Matsuhisa. We became friends who golfed and ate together. Kenny talks about his music and I talk about food, but we're basically having the same conversation.

Know when to back down

Bob [De Niro] or Mark Wahlberg will come in, but I just say hello and thank you because I want them to eat and be comfortable. They're here for my food, not me. The restaurant business is about giving customers what they want, but it's also about knowing when to leave people alone. When I'm a customer, if I order a glass of champagne and they bring out a bottle, what was supposed to be a 45-minute meal now is a couple of hours. I hate that.  Top of page