Brooklyn icon Peter Luger Steakhouse is planning to open in Tokyo. But, according to fourth-generation co-owners David Berson and Daniel Turtel, they’re taking their time with it. “I like to joke that we’re on the 60-year expansion [plan],” says Berson. “Brooklyn opened in 1887. Great Neck [Long Island, NY] opened in 1960. This will be around 2020.”
The Tokyo news is perhaps out of left field, but like many other big-name American restaurants, the Luger team saw a chance to reach customers who were already familiar with their brand. The Luger team found welcome partners in Wondertable, Ltd. — operators who have experience bringing America to Japan, as they did with Union Square Cafe and Lawry’s Tokyo locations. Turtel and Berson were sold on Wondertable’s ability to operate the restaurant from the day-to-day perspective — they’ve been talking for about three years, says Turtel. On their end, the Luger team will be responsible for training and meat selection. And since March of this year, they started working on how to supply a Tokyo restaurant with American beef that makes the cut.
“We’ve been working with them to tighten the parameters, so we feel comfortable with the quality of what they’d be sending out,” says Berson. Turtel also says they’ve been doing “tests to set up remote selection strategies.”
Luckily, many of the meat purveyors Luger works with already have the necessary experience to make it work — and beef selection will remain a responsibility of team Luger. “Japanese demand for American beef has really skyrocketed,” says Turtel. “A lot of the meat packers we work with here are already exporting to Tokyo. We won’t have to sacrifice quality.” And Japan’s interest in American beef is a good sign that Tokyo will be ready for what Peter Luger will bring.
While Americans are currently crushing on Japan’s pricey wagyu katsu sandwiches, the Luger team isn’t planning on working with wagyu or kobe beef. “Our identity is tied to USDA prime beef,” says Turtel. But he knows he needs to appeal to local palates, but he sees that happening in side dishes and appetizers.
As in Brooklyn, Peter Luger Steakhouse Tokyo will have a dry-aging room. The team is hunting for a space — it needs to be big enough for dry-aging, a large kitchen, and about 150 seats has proven challenging in central Tokyo — but wherever they land, they hope to pay homage to the old-world charm of the original location, maybe even with similar wood floors and wood paneling on the walls. “We’ll do as much as we can to keep the aesthetic, but you have to respect the space you have,” Turtel says.
And while it’s tempting to read into the Tokyo opening might finally mean Peter Luger will also come to prime expansion cities like Las Vegas or Los Angeles (there have been offers, of course), Turtel and Berson aren’t quite there yet. “This is something that’s really important to us. It’s our great grandfather’s restaurant. It’s a lot of anxiety, thought, and internal discussion,” says Berson. “This seems to hit everything we’re looking for, and we’re really confident that we can execute our vision.”