Chotto Matte Eyes World Growth, With Doha, Riyadh, San Francisco And A Second London Location In The Works

Designs for the San Francisco outpost are particularly swell — it will sit amidst the skyline atop a … [+] former Macy’s department store.

Chotto mat

Chotto Matte, a high-voltage destination for Nikkei cuisine, is growing. Not just with one new locale or a souped-up renovation — new locations in Doha, Riyadh, San Francisco, and London (the brand’s second location in the city) are in the works, with properties in Washington and Manchester to follow. “We’ve also secured Rome, Beverly Hills and Milan,” describes founder Kurt Zdesar, “and we’re in the final stages of signing Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Nashville.”

Doha will open at the end of next month, with Marylebone, London, to follow in April. Riyadh and San Francisco are set to open by the end of 2022.

It’s an ambitious expansion, particularly in the wake of a global pandemic that shuttered over 100,000 restaurants in the US alone.

“Warren Buffet said it best,” explains Zdesar via Facetime. “When everyone else is buying, selling. When everyone else is selling, buy.” The pandemic left restaurant real estate ripe for the picking, and he in a position to negotiate on pricing.”Not only was I getting AAA sites but I’m getting huge support from landlords. While I likely would have opened five restaurants over these next few years, I’m taking on upwards of 10.”

Global expansion isn’t a green concept to the Australian-born, British-based food magnate. Zdesar started his career at KFC franchise Southern Fast Foods (as a manager by 18, no less), moving upwards to open Nobu’s first London restaurant before launching Ping Pong, his brand of dim sum restaurants. Add in a consulting gig or two (at London’s Hakkasan and Paris’ Les Bains) and he’s well versed in bottling lightning.

He sold his shares in Ping Pong and opened Chotto Matte on London’s Frith Street in 2013, offering Nikkei cuisine as a buzzing, bicultural dining experience with blown-out theatrics and art-covered spaces. Miami followed in 2018 — an impressive space with a retractable roof and a 33,000-pound volcanic boulder — and a two-level space in downtown Toronto in 2019.

Doha will open at the end of next month, with Marylebone, London, to follow in April. Riyadh and San … [+] Francisco are set to open by the end of 2022.

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What is Nikkei cuisine? A hyper-specific facet of Peruvian cuisine born from the Japanese migrants who arrived in Peru in the late 1800s to work on coastal sugar plantations. Japan’s government wanted to relocate young farmers by moving them to countries experiencing agricultural booms. Tens of thousands made the journey.

Like many marginalized immigrant communities, they adapted their culinary traditions to fit their location, making familiar recipes with foreign Peruvian ingredients. Nikkei – the Japanese word for emigrants – now signals the cuisine of this diaspora. (For guests who are confused about these bi-cultural offerings on the menu, servers are quick to explain Nikkei’s roots.)

At Chotto Matte, that means black cod carefully marinated in yuzu, aji and miso and caramelized on a binchotan grill, or broccoli and huacatay (a Peruvian black mint sauce) similarly charred. Vibrant yellowtail ceviches are plush with leche de tigre, toasted Peruvian corn, sweet potatoes and bright slivers of onions. Anticuchos, or small pieces of octopus, chicken, or salmon, are sliced ​​small, skewered and grilled until they’re juicy and packed with flavor. Drinks pairing run the gamut of local wines, sake and fluffy pisco sours.

Rich, smokey binchotan-grilled pulpo served with fluffy purple Peruvian potatoes and yuzu is a … [+] Hallmark of the bi-cultural cuisine of Peru and Japan.

On any given weeknight a DJ will set up camp by the entrance. Weekends are filled with everything from drag brunches to contemporary dance shows. “We aren’t in the business of entertainment, but we do entertain,” explains Zdesar. Dinner at Chotto Matte is a highly sensory experience — sushi is torched tableside, floor-to-ceiling graffiti glows in low light and performers weave between tables.

Zdesar’s rollout strategy is to “enter markets where something like this doesn’t exist.” Are Nikkei ingredients available in that market? Are there other Nikkei restaurants?

He looks into the locations of top-performing restaurants in the world. What cities are they in? What neighborhoods? “In DC, all the top-performing restaurants surround the White House. So, we can’t be too far from there.”

Zdesar handles much of this research himself. “Not only is this a financial commitment and an investment risk, but the space needs to speak to me and have the right space for our concept.”

San Francisco’s rooftop perch is slick, spacious, and centralized in the city’s core.

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In Manchester, that means “an 18,000 square foot rooftop space in a growing city. Folks who have opened there in the last few years have done exceptionally well,” says Zdesar. Designs for the San Francisco outpost are particularly swell — Chotto Matte will sit amidst the skyline atop a former Macy’s department store currently undergoing a massive renovation that will transform the building into a retail center and expansive event hub. In Los Angeles, Chotto Matte wants to inhabit a spacious rooftop overlooking Beverly Hills.

Doha (located in the St. Regis Marsa Arabia) and Riyadh (in the King Abdullah Financial District) will fall under a new franchise system put in place by Chotto Matte to facilitate global expansions. Management will be handled locally, with the brand’s UK headquarters overseeing strategy and marketing. Zdesar assures them do limit openings to ensure they launch each new space efficiently and properly. “We can only grow to the capabilities of management.”

Down the road, they plan to open a training school in Miami, where new staff can decamp and train before joining an opening team. “We would get better use of our Miami location and it’s a purpose-driven expansion – our current biggest limitation is building our teams.”

To secure success at each new Chotto Matte, key members of new locations — head chefs, executive chef, sushi restaurant managers — are sent to busy locations for a quality-check retreat of sorts. “If they can run that location, we know they’ll be fine wherever they go,” Zdesar says. “It’s an investment, but we see it as an insurance policy.”

The Toronto Space is neon-hued and nestled between soaring buildings in the city’s finance … [+] district and Union Station, Toronto’s transit hub.

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No matter the location, each Chotto Matte will have the brand’s signature performative element. “We’re thinking of full theatrical nights, proper installations and allocating areas where performers can work freely.” An Italian company is on board to help boost experiences, curate uniforms and find local artists.

“Anytime we do anything like that the reaction, uptake and uplift in the business is phenomenal,” he continues. “These experiences are garnering us millions of interactions on social media.”

“I think the whole global dining experience is going to shift towards entertaining,” says Zdesar. After years shut inside, does a restaurant exist simply as a place for nourishment, or does it need more reasons to draw in diners? “We’re looking at a new model of what a restaurant is today – it touches all senses.”

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