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Sam Nazarian has global ambitions for his Katsuya restaurants

L.A. nightclub impresario Sam Nazarian has signed a deal with M.H. Alshaya to open 17 Katsuya sushi restaurants in the Middle East by 2017.

September 24, 2012|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • "Katsuya should become the largest lifestyle sushi brand in the world," said Sam Nazarian, founder and chief executive of nightclub, restaurant and hotel operator SBE.
"Katsuya should become the largest lifestyle sushi brand in the world,"… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Sam Nazarian is taking his popular Katsuya Japanese restaurant brand global.

The Los Angeles night-life impresario just signed a deal with behemoth retail franchise operator M.H. Alshaya to develop 17 Katsuyas in the Middle East by 2017, with the first two scheduled to open in Kuwait and Dubai in 2013.

The announcement underscores how quickly Nazarian, founder and chief executive of SBE hospitality group, is pushing his company's key brands both nationally and internationally. His SLS hotel chain will soon expand into Manhattan, Las Vegas and China.

"They contacted us about a year ago, and they wanted Katsuya," said Nazarian of Alshaya, which operates a portfolio of more than 55 internationally recognized brands, including Starbucks, P.F. Chang's and the Cheesecake Factory in the Middle East, North Africa, Russia, Turkey and Europe. "Realistically we're looking at developing 50 in the next 10 years. Katsuya should become the largest lifestyle sushi brand in the world."

For Nazarian that's just a start. SBE currently operates 21 brands with significant L.A. cachet, including the Bazaar by Jose Andres, Cleo at the Redbury and Hyde nightclub. Nazarian said the company was in talks to bring other brands to an overseas audience. He has his eye on Asian markets and just appointed a head of international business for Asia.

"I've been spending a tremendous amount of time in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China," Nazarian said. "We want to be known as great operators, but also as great incubators of great brands."

Indeed, Nazarian has a knack for hatching golden eggs. In August 2011 he invested in Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman to become a 50-50 partner in all of Fleischman's future endeavors. The plan is to roll out 35 new Umami Burgers nationally over the next few years.

It's one thing to open restaurants domestically (SBE currently operates 32 venues nationwide), but expanding into international markets can be a bit more tricky. Next week Nazarian will fly to Paris to meet with Katsuya designer Philippe Starck with plans to reinvent Katsuya for a Middle Eastern audience.

"We have to interpret Katsuya as we know it in L.A. and Miami into something that would reflect the cultural DNA of the Middle East," Nazarian said. "The imagery would be something appropriate for the Dubai mall. These Middle Eastern mega-malls are social hubs, and the amount of luxury brands based in them is tremendous. The Dubai mall has 50 million visitors a year. It's the only game in town."

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