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MM by Morimoto is the first in several planned restaurants between the chef and MHG.

PastaRamen operators Montclair Hospitality Group partners with Masaharu Morimoto

The New Jersey-based company has plans for more restaurants across the country in the coming years

Inside Fortress Development’s new InterContinental Bellevue at the Avenue in suburban Seattle, chef Masaharu Morimoto will launch MM by Morimoto along with Montclair Hospitality Group this fall.

"MM by Morimoto will be a legacy brand for him," said Montclair Hospitality Group CEO Joey Simons. "Before, his restaurants have been more celebratory places, but this is more an approachable, lifestyle type of dining."

MM by Morimoto is the first in several planned restaurants between the chef and MHG. The concept will open in a roughly 10,000-square-foot space with a bar, lounge, omakase room, and private dining, as well as the main dining room. The idea, said Simons, is a fun, loud, and dynamic spot serving approachable food and drink such as sushi boards and izakaya-style bites, as well as hosting a detailed bar program featuring craft cocktails. While not upscale, the plan is to create an immersive dining experience and have some tableside, theatrical elements to the food.

"We want people to feel like they are at home there, and know you don't have to get dressed up and spend $100 per person," said Simons, who came onto the MHG team in 2022. "The design is super disruptive too: There's a wrecking ball that looks like it burst out of the kitchen."

Montclair Hospitality Group was founded in 2014 by Luck Sarabhayavanija, a New Jersey native. That year he created Ani Ramen using custom-made product from Sun Noodles. It developed a cult-like following, allowing Sarabhayavanija to expand. This year he plans on opening his 11th Ani Ramen shop, in Hoboken, N.J.

With his noodle concept well established, Sarabhayavanija said he saw a need for more sushi restaurants in New Jersey. Simons used his personal connections to introduce the chef to the MHG team.

Morimoto doesn’t typically do joint ventures, according to Simons. Instead he licenses his name for ventures including Momosan and Morimoto. With MM by Morimoto, the chef will be a partner 50/50 with MHG.

This will be Montclair’s first restaurant in Bellevue, Wash.

"It's in an interesting neighborhood, which has the highest concentration of billionaires, but it's like a food desert where there is this concentration of wealth, but no real bespoke restaurant," Simons said. "The Intercontinental is a residential hotel and will have a shopping concept too, and next to MM will be a PastaRamen."

That’s another MHG concept, and another collaboration: with chef Robbie Felice, who also runs Viaggio and Osteria Crescendo in New Jersey. PastaRamen embraces Wafu Italian, a type of blended cuisine featuring Japanese and Italian aspects. The Bellevue pastaRamen will be its third location, and another is slated to open in Miami in winter of 2024.

Simons said the original Montclair, N.J., location of PastaRamen is the 12th busiest restaurant on reservation platform Resy in the country. “We are generally sold out in 20 minutes," he said. "It's a really special cuisine and food. Nothing like it exists."

PastaRamen’s most popular item is gyoza stuffed with cacio e pepe ($22), but other items like the mochi ramen carbonara ($21) and tuna and uni bao ($34) also showcase how the restaurant blends Japanese and Italian food. Due to New Jersey liquor laws, the Montclair restaurant is BYOB, which Simon said adds to its popularity.

MHG’s fourth concept is Fatto Con Amore, which means “made with love.” It’s an Italian sandwich shop slated to open in Montclair in October, overseen by Felice.

The concept revolves around a classic salumeria, or delicatessen, something the chef has wanted to run since he was a child. Expect simple options consisting of imported meats, cheeses, vinegars, and olive oils from Italy, all served on fresh bread. Prices will range from $12 to $15 per sandwich. Simons said MHG also plans on expanding this concept, but there are no confirmed locations at this time.

"Over the last year there have been a lot of business developments as we are trying to focus on secondary markets, since the rest of the country deserves good food too," Simons said. "When I joined MHG we had seven locations, there are ten now and I have around nine coming."

With that, he said, expect MHG to launch in new markets, bringing the skills of its chefs, Japanese-Italian food, and more fresh concepts around the country over the next couple of years.

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