TORONTO — Actor Robert De Niro, celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and a cavalcade of development executives are betting huge on Toronto despite outside concerns about a real estate bubble in the city.
The group behind the star-powered Nobu Toronto — which includes 660 condominium suites, a hotel and the first Nobu Restaurant in Canada — attended a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday where they dismissed suggestions that breaking ground on their luxury establishment next year might be ill-timed if the market starts to falter.
Josh Zagdanski, vice-president of Toronto-based developer Madison Group, said he believes buyers will consider a condo in the Nobu development an asset worth hanging onto.
“The core value in any real estate investment is the location and the lifestyle that comes along with it — this definitely has both aspects,” said Zagdanski.
Starting at roughly $400,000 for the smallest units, the hybrid living space won’t be suited to everyone’s budget. The Nobu brand grew from a New York restaurant into a stable of high-end eateries and hotels around the world, driven by the chef’s strong reputation and De Niro’s Hollywood clout.
Both Matsuhisa and the famously terse actor gave an otherwise standard condo launch an extra dose of star power, answering bizarre questions about whether the hotel will deliver sushi to a guest’s room at 1 a.m. or if De Niro planned to slip on a tank top and lay bricks during construction.
“You will, you will,” De Niro nodded. “I’ll try my best.”
Behind the star-gazing aspects of Nobu’s high-profile launch is an ambitious plan by Matsuhisa to rapidly expand his real estate footprint across the globe with a strong focus on his hotel brand.
While Toronto marks Nobu’s first experiment of combining a hotel and residences in the same development, there’s already another one in the works in Los Cabos, Mexico. The chef said working with the executive team that’s building his namesake brand is similar to tying the knot.
“We are like married,” he said. “And now we have to make more babies.”
Even without a presence yet in Toronto, Nobu has left an indelible impression on some locals, most recognizably Drake, who sings the praises of the fine-dining establishment on a number of his tracks.
“Can’t get Nobu, but you can get Milestone,” he rapped, juxtaposing the menu’s exotic dishes against the faux-fancy offerings of Canadian chain Milestones, on his 2017 track “Gyalchester.” He’s also sneaked Nobu name drops into his album with Future, and superficially pointed out the Malibu location on YG’s “Who Do you Love?”
“He’s a big fan,” insists Meir Teper, a film producer who left Hollywood to join De Niro in getting Nobu off the ground.
While the Japanese chef has stayed in other Canadian locales like Vancouver and Victoria, he said the Nobu launch event on Tuesday marked his first time visiting Toronto. The nuances of the local food scene are still a mystery to him, but Matsuhisa said he’s already confident there’s space for his trademark up-market Japanese-fusion dishes.
“People have good taste. People understand quality,” he said.
“We just started the project, but when we open we can find more details.”
De Niro said he’s attended the Toronto International Film Festival and has shot movies in the city but still has plenty to learn about the local culture.
The “Taxi Driver” star said he’s getting a free unit in the development, which could mean the New Yorker will swing by the city more frequently.
“Toronto’s a great city. It’s got a great film festival,” he said.
“It’s a great city and an important city.”