Early returns are still coming in, but Nabuki, Hinsdale's newest dining venue, looks like a winner. The first Japanese eatery to hit town officially opened Oct. 18 and already is attracting sizable crowds of locals and out-of-town diners.
For a restaurant the size of the 100-seat Nabuki, one measure of success would mean serving 200 people during the dinner session. "I think we'll reach that turn rate," said Peter Burdi, partner-operator. "It's early days, but we've come close to serving 150 on a Saturday night."
"More importantly, to be profitable we'll need to get our lunch and take-out service up and running," Burdi told Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Patch. He said the kitchen is gearing up to add lunch within three weeks while it continues to beef up its take-out business. Launching a catering operation also is under consideration.
Veteran head chef Juan Perez, formerly with Sushi House in Westmont, said the menu offers something to appeal to both sushi and non-sushi fans: traditional hot and cold Japanese dishes, tempura and 10 different main-course entrees. Sushi rolls are priced from $7 to $16 and main-course dishes, $14-$32. By mid-November, Nabuki will introduce daily specials.
"We try to bring something different to the table," said Perez, whose use of such ingredients as cilantro and jalapeno peppers add a Latin flair to some preparations. Sushi remains the most popular choice, especially the chef's specialty rolls. Among the most requested are the Red Devil roll (spicy octopus with shrimp tempura topped with spicy tuna, scallops and avocado) and the NABU roll (soft-shell crab, avocado and cucumber topped with crabmeat and spicy mayonnaise).
Cocktails such as Geisha's Glance and Silent Assassin are among the bar's specialties. Also available are an extensive number of sakes selected by consulting sommelier Justin Leone, who was once associated with the tony Alinea Restaurant in Chicago.
Burdi, who was raised in nearby Westchester, is a relative newcomer to foodservice. He earned a law degree in Lansing, MI and worked for a time as a Cook County prosecutor before taking a turn in real estate until the market soured. "I had to reinvent myself late in 2006," he said.
He later partnered with prominent Chicago restaurateur Jerry Kleiner, and in 2009 they opened Il Poggiolo Ristorante, which serves regional Italian fare. Building on that experience and responding to pent-up demand in Hinsdale for sushi, Burdi and his wife Dana, joined by two other co-owners, Clay and Lori Naccarato, purchased the property at 18 E. First St., a few doors down the block from Il Poggiolo.
During a seven-month-long remodeling project that followed, two adjoining commercial spaces were combined and transformed into Nabuki's sleek new quarters. Commenting on the investment, Burdi said: "Spending $800,000 to $1 million on infrastructure is a lot easier when it's on a building that you own. That's a problem for a lot of restaurants who can't afford to put these kinds of resources into somebody else's building."
Burdi expects to start seeing a return on the investment within one and one-half to two years, but he said "three years is when you start to hit your stride, when you get the kinks out." In the meantime, he and his management team are keeping a watchful eye on operating costs.
Dana Burdi, who helps with the marketing, menu development and staffing, said Nabuki's ultimate goal is to achieve destination-restaurant status.
"To attract business, we've done a little bit of everything from advertising online and in the local press to radio spots as well as a lot of word-of-mouth promotion," she added. Eventually, Nabuki will adopt some of the special events that have worked well for its sister restaurant. Sake tastings are another likely possibility.
At the same time, she said families remain the targeted demographic. Hinsdale is family-oriented, "and we wanted to provide an environment where diners feel comfortable with their children. We have a nice kids' menu at Nabuki just as we do at Il Poggiolo."
Looking ahead, Peter Burdi said he would consider taking on more restaurant ventures. "I'm developing a real passion for it and already have been approached about possible deals. I'm always looking for opportunities, but it's too early to say what's next. ."
Though Burdi has no plans to grow the Nabuki concept, he conceded it has "definite franchise possibilities. This could easily be done again."