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Robert DeNiro visits Atlanta for Nobu groundbreaking at Phipps Plaza

Phipps Plaza will get a new look with hotel and restaurant plans. Video by Ryon Horne

After several minutes of comprehensive details and thanks from local city officials and Simon mall executives, Robert DeNiro trotted to the podium in his casual black ensemble and sneakers, grinned and said, “It’s gonna be great!”

An hour later, seated to the side of the groundbreaking area for the 10,000-square-foot Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, DeNiro was asked why he and the co-founders of the hospitality brand - Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and film producer Meir Teper - would spend a day flying from New York to Atlanta, Atlanta to Houston for a Nobu opening and then Houston to Las Vegas, to continue the year-long fifth anniversary of the Nobu brand there.

“Why not?” the famously taciturn DeNiro said.

Well, when it’s put that way…why not, indeed?

Robert De Niro (left) and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, partners in Nobu Hotel and restaurant, will bring their business to a re-imagined Phipps Plaza. Photo: RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM
Robert De Niro (left) and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, partners in Nobu Hotel and restaurant, will bring their business to a re-imagined Phipps Plaza. Photo: RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM

Meir jumped in. “I’m the organizer for everything. Nobu travels around the world all year, with 40 restaurants and eight hotels. Bob is doing movies in different parts (of the world) and it’s difficult when we have an event to get everyone together. So once we’ve got them together for a couple of days, we try to cover everything.”

Added Matsuhisa with a laugh and nod toward DeNiro, “I’m easy. He’s more difficult!”

The trio arrived at Phipps Plaza late Thursday morning to participate in in the ceremonial first step of their restaurant and hotel, which will open in phases beginning in 2021 as part of the redevelopment of the mixed-use area.

DeNiro, 75, has filmed several movies in the state – most recently last year’s “The War on Grandpa,” when he stayed in Buckhead. He praised Georgia’s consistent tax benefits for the film industry and suggested the trickle-down benefits – luring high-end clientele – were a reason Atlanta was chosen for a Nobu.

“I think that it’s nice that Atlanta and Georgia has made it stick. A lot of times, what I’ve seen and I’ve shot in other states, they have rebates and breaks for the production company but then the money dries up or this or that. They don’t stick it out,” he said. “In order to show people that you’re serious about it, you have to stick it out and continue it through different administrations. If you don’t, then people are gonna leave.”

Chef Nobu will bring his signature eclectic Japanese fare to Nobu Atlanta – including the black cod with miso, which DeNiro fell in love with at Matsuhisa’s original Los Angeles restaurant nearly 25 years ago and prompted their union.

The Nobu portfolio currently includes 16 hotels (eight are open) and 40 restaurants in 20 countries. Locations will open next month in Sao Paulo and in January in Cabo San Lucas and, said Meir, the team has its eye on Nashville as another potential landing spot.

A rendering of the Nobu hotel and restaurant to be built on the campus of the Phipps Plaza mall in Buckhead. SPECIAL from Simon and Nobu
A rendering of the Nobu hotel and restaurant to be built on the campus of the Phipps Plaza mall in Buckhead. SPECIAL from Simon and Nobu

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

As for which is more challenging – the film industry or hospitality, DeNiro was again succinct. “They’re all hard. To make them special so that people will want to come is what it’s all about. But we’ve been doing pretty well.”

According to Bloomberg News, Nobu Hospitality expects to reach $1 billion in revenue in five years.

Teper, who has produced films including “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” also had some thoughts on the two industries.

“The movie business and restaurant business are very similar. They’re both very hard. Very few movies are very successful; they make a lot of movies, only a few make it and only a few restaurants make it. I consider ourselves lucky that we were able to succeed. Even though he’s one of the greatest artists who has ever lived,” Teper said, nodding toward DeNiro, “not every movie was a big success. But you never know. You have to try.”