What could be a more iconic American experience than a dinner at Peter Luger Steakhouse? The 134-year-old restaurant with a Michelin star in New York has been cherished by locals and tourists alike throughout its history.
No wonder the restaurant has received numerous love calls from foodservice operators all over the world to open a sister location. But the owner’s family declined these offers for a long time. “We are a family business with a unique personality. We needed a right partner who has the chemistry to share our values and philosophy,” says Daniel Turtel, vice president of Peter Luger and the 4th generation of the family business (his great-grandfather is Sol Forman who established Peter Luger Steakhouse.
Finally, they found one and are opening their third location and the first overseas restaurant in Tokyo on October 14. The local partner is Wondertable, which currently operates 44 restaurants in Japan and 83 overseas with various concepts, including Japanese, Italian and craft beer bars. Also, the company is known for having successfully introduced multiple overseas brands to Japan, such as Union Square Tokyo in partnership with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, Jean Georges Tokyo and Lawry’s The Prime Rib.
From Friendship To Partnership
“We had many offers from Japanese restaurant operators and about five years ago, we seriously considered working with one of them. But the company wanted to open 50 branches of Peter Lugers throughout Japan, which was definitely not what we were willing to do,” says Turtel.
While the potential business deal was being discussed, the family was introduced to the management of Wondertable and the company casually started to give them advice on the Japanese market.
Michio Akimoto, president and COO of Wondertable says, “Both our Chairman Yoshitaka Hayashi and I love steak. So initially, we were simply happy to get to know the owners of the reputable steakhouse and did not think of doing business with them at all.”
Then their friendship grew over time. Wondertable is also a private company and family business (the chairman Hayashi succeeded his parents’ business). “We share the same mindset of the family business, which is crucial in bringing the philosophy of Peter Lugers outside New York,” Turtel says. Akimoto has the corresponding idea. “We want to build brands that will be adored by our customers for a long time just as the Peter Luger family does.” To prove it is not just a statement, Lawry’s The Prime Rib is celebrating its 21st anniversary in Tokyo this September and Union Square Tokyo is now 15 years old.
Another key factor of the partnership is Wondertable’s experience with the meat business. Peter Luger opened its only branch in Great Neck on Long Island in 1961, but did not open other locations for fear that further expansion could lead to quality decline.
The steakhouse family is content with Wondertable’s ability to keep the quality standards in New York. The company has successful meat-themed restaurant brands: Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Mo Mo Paradise that specializes in sukiyaki and shabu shabu and Barbacoa Churrascaria, Brazilian skewered barbecue restaurants.
Peter Luger and Wondertable entered into a licensing agreement in July 2018.
The menu of the Tokyo branch will be exactly the same as the one in Brooklyn; no Japanese wagyu beef will be offered. The Peter Luger family will select all the meat prior to the shipment to Tokyo. Then the meat will be matured in the temperature and humidity-controlled aging room within the Tokyo restaurant.
The portion size of the steak will be also the same, even though Japanese guests may find it bigger than what they are used to. “You cannot manipulate the perfect cut of meat – as you don’t cut a piece of sushi in half,” Turtel smiles.
The new restaurant is located in Ebisu, a fashionable area in central Tokyo. To replicate the ambiance of the Brooklyn location, the partners found one of the rare brick buildings in the city, which used to be a Sapporo Beer factory.
The three-floor structure can accommodate 241 guests. The first floor will be a bar and a takeout shop and the main dining on the second floor with an open kitchen features an airy, 20-feet-high ceiling. The third floor resembles balcony seats at a theater where diners can look over the lively activities on the second floor.
The executive chef for Tokyo was selected from the existing Wondertable’s establishments. He and his team have been trained at Peter Lugers in Brooklyn for a month and they are ready for the opening in Tokyo.
The Competitive Japanese Steakhouse Market
Beef consumption in Japan has been increasing steadily. According to the 2019 Japanese government data, the domestic consumption of beef increased 11% in the previous 10 years and 34% from 30 years before. There are already other famous American chain steakhouses in Japan such as Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Benjamin Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse and Empire Steakhouse. Also, many domestic steak restaurants abound, including family restaurants, counter seating-only establishments and standing bars.
The market is highly competitive but Turtel is confident. “We are distinctive in many ways. For one, Peter Luger has been made by women as opposed to the classic image of steakhouses being dominated by men. My great-grandmother Marsha spent two years learning how to inspect meat from a retired USDA meat inspector and went to the meat district twice a week to make her choices until she was 80. She, her daughters and granddaughter together have built and sustained Peter Luger as what it is now,” he says. “One of the reasons we remain popular for years is that we are accessible to anyone – all genders, all ages, all nationalities and backgrounds. We believe that diners in Japan will feel the spirit of our hospitality.”