“I try to avoid fancy restaurants when entertaining clients. I prefer places with authentic food and a casual atmosphere. That’s either Mon Ami Gabi near our HQ in Bethesda, Maryland, or Le Diplomate in Washington DC – two classic French bistros with excellent steak-frites and big sharing plateaux de fruits de mer.
I grew up in Japan so sushi and sashimi are comfort food for me. Makoto in Washington DC’s attractive Palisades neighbourhood is a 20-seat hidden gem with a traditional yet sleek feel and an outstanding omakase menu. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in the 14th Street corridor is less formal. I actually like a bit of noise during a work meal – not a pounding soundtrack, but the energy of the people in the room – as it intensifies our discussions. This vibrant area is important historically too: it was burned down in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King and has been revitalised with new restaurants and brew pubs that bring real colour to the capital.
I find partners and investors visiting from outside the US want meals to be just so – Michelin stars and impressive settings. For these occasions I’ll travel an hour outside the capital to The Inn at Little Washington, where chef Patrick O’Connell prepares delicious multicourse meals that might include soft-shell crab tempura or Peking duck with sour cherries. I shared one particularly memorable evening here with Tom Hutchison, then CEO of CNL, the real-estate investment trust that was acquiring some of our property.
Much of the negotiating with Ian Schrager regarding the formation of our Edition hotels took place at the Four Seasons in New York. Something about the place just says “let’s resolve this”. We had many intense one-to-ones over lunch – often in 45-60 minutes.
I do a lot of business over breakfast and one of our most important deals – with South Africa’s Protea Hospitality Holdings – was established over strong cappuccinos at New York’s Essex House. CEO Arthur Gillis and I sat at a corner table and really got to know one another. We just hit it off. This was the first step in a long collaboration that ultimately led to term sheets and acquisitions.
In London I like the buzz at The Wolseley. If I’m seeking to make a more personal connection I’ll head to The River Café for its unmatched Italian food and light-filled space. As we are a big operator in sub-Saharan Africa I also spend a lot of time in Cape Town, where the avant-garde Test Kitchen is excellent for fun group dinners. We might start with oysters then follow the chef’s experimental tasting menu, which always sparks lively conversation. I love the mix of high-end cuisine and casual warehouse setting.
In Asia there is a ritual to business dinners and the best deal-making restaurants tend to be in hotels. I have shared countless meals with prospective investors and partners in the private rooms at Tin Lung Heen in The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. My guests always respond well to the traditional Cantonese cuisine and incredible harbour views. In Japan, however, my host will often take care of the evening’s arrangements – right down to the karaoke. Inagaki in Tokyo is a tiny, convivial spot favoured for bowls of oden, while Tofuya-Ukai serves wonderfully authentic tofu in a lovely garden.
Meals aren’t a soft excuse for splurging and they can be everything from intense to celebratory, but they are a huge part of the way I do business.”