Peter Luger Defies Pandemic to Open First Tokyo Steakhouse
(Bloomberg) -- One of the legendary tastes of New York will finally be available in Tokyo on Thursday, as Peter Luger Steak House opens the doors to its first location outside the U.S.
Nestled in the laid-back Tokyo district of Ebisu, close to Shibuya, the restaurant is the culmination of a multiyear effort to bring the restaurant that popularized the dry-aged taste to Tokyo, a city usually more known for melt-in-the-mouth wagyu.
The three-story redbrick building that will house the restaurant is reminiscent of the family-run Brooklyn eatery that first opened in 1887. The location, far from the financial centers of Roppongi or Marunouchi where upscale steakhouses are typically located, was chosen due to the building’s similarity to the original.
“It’s as if the Brooklyn restaurant itself has descended upon Tokyo,” said Michio Akimoto, chief executive officer of Peter Luger’s local partner, Wondertable Ltd., which also runs the local franchise for Lawry’s Prime Rib.
Just as wagyu beef has been gaining fans abroad, dry-aged beef has been growing in popularity in Japan over the past decade. Wolfgang’s, Benjamin Steakhouse, Empire Steak House and Morton’s have all opened locations in Tokyo, helped by relaxed restrictions on the import of U.S. beef.
Beef for Peter Luger’s Tokyo location is air-freighted into Japan weekly from the U.S. and aged on-site for 28 days or more in the restaurant’s specially-built aging room. The signature porterhouse steak for two is set to retail for 22,000 yen ($193), not including 10% consumption tax and service charges. Prices will fluctuate depending on the market rate, just as they do in the existing New York locations.
But in two other areas, the Tokyo outlet will take the opposite approach to the original. Peter Luger has for decades stubbornly insisted on payment only in cash, and accepts reservations only by phone. Instead, the Japanese outlet only offers cash-free payment options, and also accepts online reservations in addition to an AI-powered phone reservation system provided by SoftBank Group Corp. affiliate Line Corp.
The first 60 days of openings sold out in just hours when they went on offer last month. Bookings now open 90 days in advance, with almost all dinner slots taken through the end of the year. A gift shop is set to open later this month, offering items such as branded t-shirts, along with a take-out menu.
The project, including licensing and construction, cost almost 1 billion yen ($8.8 million), Akimoto said. The pandemic has further delayed the opening, which was originally targeted for 2020 ahead of the Olympics, before they were postponed.
Although Covid cases in Tokyo have plummeted to the lowest in more than a year, the pandemic is still weighing on local dining sentiment. The opening comes just two weeks after the lifting of the most recent state of emergency, with the government still asking restaurants to limit opening hours. Bars and restaurants are still asked to restrict the sale of alcohol, with last orders still at 8 p.m. until Oct. 24.
With Japan’s borders still effectively closed due to the pandemic, it will also be some time before it becomes a location for meals on the corporate account with visiting American executives. And Peter Luger has found it hard to recruit enough staff, further limiting the seats it can make available.
“Even if we’re in the red for a year, this is a 130-year-old brand,” Akimoto said. “We don’t expect to recoup the costs in a year. We began this with the expectation that this is a 10-, 20- 30 year project.”
Wondertable is targeting 1.5 billion yen in annual revenue from Peter Luger in the near term, and hopes to increase that to more than 2 billion yen over the next few years.
“There are only about three or four restaurants in Tokyo that I know of that bring in that amount,” Akimoto said. “We’re betting our lives on this.”
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