Chotto Matte eyes global expansion, with Doha, Riyadh, San Francisco and a second location in London in the works
Chotto Matte, a high voltage destination for Nikkei cuisine, is on the rise. Not just with a new venue or a bloated 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 have also secured Rome, Beverly Hills and Milan,” describes founder Kurt Zdesar, “and we are in the final stages of signing Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Nashville.”
Doha will open at the end of next month, with Marylebone, London following in April. Riyadh and San Francisco are expected to open by the end of 2022.
It’s an ambitious expansion, especially following a global pandemic that has closed more than 100,000 restaurants. in the United States only.
“Warren Buffet said it best,” Zdesar explains via Facetime. “When everyone is buying, sell. When everyone is selling, buy. The pandemic left restaurant real estate ripe for the picking, and it was able to negotiate prices. “Not only was I getting AAA sites, but I’m getting tremendous support from the owners. While I probably would have opened five restaurants in the next few years, I’m taking over 10.”
Global expansion is not a green concept for the Australian-born British food magnate. Zdesar began his career in the KFC Southern Fast Foods franchise (as a manager at 18, no less), then rose through the ranks to open the first Nobu restaurant in London before launching Ping Pong, his dim restaurant brand. sum. Add to that a gig or two as a consultant (at the Hakkasan in London and at the Bains de Paris) and he knows the bottling of lightning well.
He sold his shares in Ping Pong and opened Chotto Matte on London’s Frith Street in 2013, offering Nikkei cuisine as a lively bicultural dining experience with stunning theaters and art-decorated spaces. Miami followed in 2018 – an impressive space with a retractable roof and 33,000-pound volcanic rock – and a two-level space in downtown Toronto in 2019.
What East Nikkei cuisine? A hyper-specific facet of Peruvian cuisine born out of Japanese migrants who arrived in Peru in the late 1800s to work in the coastal sugarcane plantations. The Japanese government wanted to relocate young farmers by moving them to countries with agricultural booms. Tens of thousands made the trip.
Like many marginalized immigrant communities, they have adapted their culinary traditions to their location, preparing familiar recipes with foreign Peruvian ingredients. Nikkei – the Japanese word for emigrants – now signals the cuisine of this diaspora. (For patrons who are confused about these bicultural offerings on the menu, servers quickly explain Nikkei 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. . The vibrant yellowtail ceviches are sumptuous with leche de tigre, grilled Peruvian corn, sweet potatoes and shiny onion strips. Anticuchos, or small pieces of octopus, chicken or salmon, are cut into small pieces, skewered and grilled until juicy and full of flavor. Drink pairings run the gamut from local wines, sake, and fluffy pisco sours.
Every weeknight, a DJ will set up camp at the entrance. Weekends are filled with everything from Drag Brunches to contemporary dance performances. “We’re not in the entertainment business, but we entertain,” says Zdesar. Dining at Chotto Matte is a highly sensory experience – sushi is set on fire next to the table, floor-to-ceiling graffiti glows in the dim light, and artists weave their way between tables.
Zdesar’s rollout strategy is to “enter markets where something like this doesn’t exist.” Are Nikkei ingredients available in this market? Are there any other Nikkei restaurants?
It looks at the locations of the most successful restaurants in the world. What cities are they in? Which neighborhoods? “In DC, all of the top performing restaurants surround the White House. So we can’t be too far from it.
Zdesar does much of this research itself. “Not only is it a financial commitment and an investment risk, but the space has to speak to me and have the right space for our concept.”
In Manchester, that means “18,000 square foot rooftop space in a growing city. People who have opened there in recent years have done exceptionally well,” says Zdesar. The designs for the San Francisco outpost are particularly successful – Chotto Matte will sit in the middle of the skyline atop a former Macy’s department store currently undergoing a massive renovation that will turn the building into a shopping mall and an extensive events center. In Los Angeles, Chotto Matte will inhabit a spacious rooftop overlooking Beverly Hills.
Doha (located in the St. Regis Marsa Arabia) and Riyadh (in the King Abdullah Financial District) will come under a new franchise system set up by Chotto Matte to facilitate global expansions. Management will be handled locally, with the brand’s UK headquarters overseeing strategy and marketing. Zdesar ensures that they limit openings to ensure that they launch each new space efficiently and correctly. “We can only grow to management capabilities.”
Later, they plan to open a training school in Miami, where new personnel can decamp and train before joining an opening team. “We would have better use of our location in Miami and it’s a goal-driven expansion – our biggest limitation right now is building our teams.”
To ensure the success of each new Chotto Matte, key members of the new locations – head chefs, executive chef, sushi restaurant managers – are sent to busy locations for a sort of quality control retreat. “If they can manage 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.”
Regardless of location, each Chotto Matte will have the brand’s signature performative element. “We are thinking of full theatrical evenings, appropriate facilities and the allocation of areas where artists can work freely.” An Italian company is on board to help boost experiences, organize uniforms and find local artists.
“Every time we do something like this, the response, adoption and business improvement are phenomenal,” he continues. “These experiences are bringing us millions of social media interactions.”
“I think the whole global dining experience is going to evolve into entertainment,” says Zdesar. After years of confinement, does a restaurant exist simply as a place to eat or does it need more reasons to attract diners? “We envision a new model of what a restaurant is today – it touches all the senses.”