When top Japanese chefs and restaurateurs expand to the US, they have invariably headed to New York. Just look at the jammed counters at Yoshino, Odo and Sushi Nakazawa.
However, when first-time restaurateurs Samuel and Jose Tcherassi approached Hidefumi Namba, the revered shokunin, or craftsman, behind Tokyo’s eight-seat, referral-only Sushi Namba, the brothers didn’t offer him a plush spot in Manhattan. They made a bold offer: Open in Miami.
Namba countered with his own suggestion: If he were to expand to Florida, the space should have a bar—and not just any drinking establishment. He proposed a US branch of Bar Cocktailante Oboro, the members-only Tokyo spot run by his friend Shunta Yamakawa, which serves exceptional, digestion-supporting, fruit-based elixirs.
In summer 2024, the Tcherassi brothers and Namba will open the multiconcept Ura, a 1,700-square-foot space that includes Sushi Namba and the Listening Room, a jazz lounge that will also host Cocktailante Oboro. Ura will be located in a gated building in Allapattah, an up-and-coming artistic neighborhood northwest of downtown Miami.
To eat at Sushi Namba and drink at Listening Room, Miami residents will first have to pay a $10,000 members fee This will give them access to monthly seats at the sushi counter, as well as to the bar and jazz lounge. The price for an actual meal of sushi omakase will range from $400 to $500 per person. The Tcherassi brothers say that they will cap the number of members at around 300 and have started accepting reservations.
The eye-opening fee will not make Sushi Namba the first $10,000 members-only Japanese spot in Miami, though. Major Food Group (MFG) already operates ZZ’s Club there, with its $10,000 initiation fee and $3,500 annual membership. (Namba will not require annual membership.)
The trend toward private restaurants and bars is taking off in the US. In October, MFG announced the New York launch of ZZ’s Club at a cost of $30,000 for new members; earlier this year, New York became home to the referral-only whiskey den, Beatbox.
Members-only dining and drinking spots are well established in Japan, as are referral spots where a prospective diner needs to be accompanied by a member or obtain a referral from a regular.
John Hirai, a top reviewer for the Japan-based restaurant rating site Tabelog, said that by choosing their customers, operators can better control the dining experience. For in-demand restaurants with just eight or so seats, “chefs want customers who will repeatedly visit, respect [them], respect other customers, and various other factors depending on the chef,” he noted.
The Tcherassi brothers agree. They say that opening an expensive members-only place brings guests a better experience. Once Namba comes to know customers, he can customize their experience—a common practice in Japan. There’s even a word for it: Omotenashi is the Japanese approach to hospitality for hosts whose work goes above and beyond the norm.
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