Quinn Emanuel Trio to Open Los Angeles Sushi Restaurant
On a trip to Japan about five years ago, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan cofounder John Quinn made a request to his partner Ryan Goldstein, the head of the firm's Tokyo office: Take me to the best sushi restaurant in the city, but not to one that any guidebook recommends.
Going on the advice of a Japanese attorney friend, Goldstein—a Japanophile who speaks the local language fluently and helped launch Quinn Emanuel's Tokyo branch in 2007—took Quinn to a sushi bar run by chef Hiroyuki "Hiro" Naruke. There, they discovered a six-seat, locals-only joint where reservations were required and where Naruke personally cut every piece of sushi. From the very first visit, Goldstein and Quinn became devoted fans.
"He’s not a performer, but it’s a performance to watch," Goldstein says of Naruke's style. "It's really interesting how he takes so much care with each individual piece."
When the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit Japan in March 2011, leaving at least 15,800 dead and causing widespread structural damage, in part due to nuclear meltdowns at a power plant in Fukushima, Naruke's business was nearly devastated. Fears of fish being contaminated with radiation spread across the country, and Naruke's six seats were no longer full every night.
One day, Naruke mentioned the slowdown to Goldstein, saying that it would be "his dream" to open a restaurant in the United States. Soon after, Goldstein took the idea to Quinn and to Shon Morgan, a class action partner in Quinn Emanuel's Los Angeles office and longtime sushi fanatic. Over drinks at Quinn's 60th birthday party, held at popular Los Angeles restaurant Osteria Mozza, the three agreed to go in on a venture together to give Naruke a second chance.
The result of their efforts is a soon-to-open, high-concept sushi restaurant named Q, located a few blocks from the firm's L.A. headquarters and premised on a $165-per-person omakase tasting menu that will feature a rotating selection of fish prepared in styles the partners say may taste unfamiliar to U.S. diners.
So far, the trio have sunk nearly $2 million into the project, Morgan says, but they won't be upset if they never see that money again. "We have the financial resources to do this the right way," he says, referring to the strict philosophy behind the sushi, including not adding sugar to the rice or sauces to appease American palettes, and only using the best-tasting fish from Southern California fish markets as well as fish flown in from Japan. "It doesn’t have to be commercially viable, and we don’t expect it to be."
Quinn echoes the sentiment, saying that recovering his seven-figure investment "is not really the point." (Last year, Quinn Emanuel partners took home an average of $4.4 million each, according to the most recent Am Law 100 data.) Instead, it's about "creating something really unique that our friends and other people can enjoy . . . very traditional, uncompromising sushi."
The Quinn Emanuel partners aren't the only Am Law 200 lawyers to enter the restaurant business, though others have chosen to leave the practice of law completely to pursue their culinary interests.
The Am Law Daily reported in 2010 on former McKee Nelson tax partner Mark Kuller’s opening of Spanish-themed restaurant Estadio in Washington, D.C., his second in the nation’s capital. Sibling publication The Careerist profiled laid-off Chadbourne & Parke associate Eddie Huang, who owns Manhattan eatery BaoHaus and has written his own book about cooking. In Atlanta, former King & Spalding associate Jennifer Johnson owns The General Muir and West Egg Café.
Stuart Gordon, a founding partner of San Francisco–based Gordon & Rees, knows the perils of running a restaurant while also running a law firm. In 2011 a restaurant he owned in San Francisco, Home, shut down despite being beloved in the Castro neighborhood where it was located when a planned sale fell through because of problems transferring the liquor license (a second location in the city's Marina district also closed). Gordon, who still has a passive ownership stake in several other restaurants, had simple advice to impart to the Quinn partners: "Hire good people."
As Gordon says, "It just shows, you can't do it unless you really have the time to devote. You have to have really good, honest people. And great cameras to watch everyone. . . . It takes a lot of effort, and planning, and organization, and good management."
When the idea to open an L.A. sushi restaurant first started two years ago, the Quinn Emanuel team agreed to a budget of $600,000 and a proposed launch date in 2012, Morgan says. Construction setbacks and the bureaucracy of Los Angeles's permitting process added delays and extra costs, but Q—yes, it's named after Quinn—is finally expected to open later this month. Morgan says they've been hosting friends and family events to work out the kinks, and they're still in the process of recruiting a chef's assistant to help Naruke in the 24-seat restaurant.
Morgan, who estimates he's spent between 10 and 20 hours per week on the launch, hired Los Angeles interior designer Ryan Brown to oversee the look and feel of the restaurant, which he describes as an homage to the ocean. More than 3,000 stained wood panels come together to form an undulating ceiling, which Quinn said is ornamented with hundreds of hanging lights. Commissioned artwork adorns the walls, and unlike in many sushi restaurants, the menu will feature a small list of high-end wines, Morgan says. He adds: "All the top sushi places (in Los Angeles) are in mini malls, they have no ambiance. We put a lot of work into the design to make it feel like a restaurant."
Goldstein, who became enamored with Japanese history and culture in college and debated getting a Ph.D. in Japanese rather than go to law school, has worked the most closely with Naruke and his wife to facilitate their move. "He changed his life for our restaurant," Goldstein says.
Morgan emphasizes that the most important part of Q is the chef who inspired them. "This is not three lawyers who decided to open a restaurant," he says. "There would be no restaurant without Hiro."
Senior reporter Brian Baxter contributed to this story.