Japanese chef Nobu originally refused Robert De Niro's New York restaurant offer

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    When movie star Robert De Niro approached Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa to open a restaurant together in New York, the chef initially said no.

    Speaking to CNBC’s Tania Bryer for an episode of “Trailblazers,” Matsuhisa said he was flattered by De Niro’s approach, after the star dined in his eponymous Los Angeles restaurant that opened in 1987.

    “He said ‘Nobu, I’d like to open a restaurant in New York together with you’ and he invited me to New York, and I stayed four days,” Matsuhisa said. “Also, Bob didn’t explain too much. So, you know he invited me to open a restaurant, (and) I so appreciated that he likes my food (and I said): ‘Bob, thank you so much but it’s still too early to open it because my first restaurant was not organized yet.’ So, he said ‘OK’.”

    But De Niro was patient.

    “After, like, four years, he called me. ‘Nobu, maybe time to come again to New York?’ I was so surprised but now I can trust him because he was waiting for me for four years. I so much appreciated (it) and he trusts me, he was a big support to me, he wants to open a restaurant in New York, and with me, we did it.”

    Nobu had been nervous about partnerships after disagreements with a business partner in Peru, but his first venture with De Niro in New York opened in Tribeca in 1994 and had much success. The pair founded Nobu Hospitality together and opened their first hotel in Las Vegas in 2013. The group now operates several hotels on five continents.

    Matsuhisa was known for treating his celebrity fans in the same way as the general public, by making them queue just like everyone else, for example.

    “Celebrities are also people, of course they are famous … My restaurant at the beginning had only 38 seats, (so) we cannot save a table for a special guest, you know, first come, first served. I don’t mind (if it’s) celebrities or young kids or regular people, (people were treated on) all the same levels,” he told CNBC.

    Robert De Niro (L) and chef Nobu Matsuhisa appear during a preview for the Nobu Restaurant and Lounge Caesars Palace on February 2, 2013 in Las Vegas.

    David Becker | Getty Images

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