When Lexus opened its first brand space, INTERSECT BY LEXUS, in Tokyo in 2013, it decided to do things a little differently. And the brand hasn’t stopped there
When INTERSECT BY LEXUS opened in the creative Tokyo neighborhood of Aoyama in 2013, it redefined the notion of what an automobile manufacturer could do with a physical space. INTERSECT displayed no cars for sale and employed no salesman. Instead, it offered locals and international visitors an immersive representation of the Lexus philosophy. The brand’s commitment to design and service was present throughout: the high-quality food and the charming behavior of the space’s staff, the fine materials, and the decorative design details. (Three walls of the bathrooms were covered entirely in Matchbox cars, creating a playful design feature that drew in curious visitors.) Such was the Aoyama space’s success that a second outpost opened in the Dubai International Financial Center and, later this year, a third space will open in New York. In this series of interviews, we talk food, design, place, service, and the Lexus philosophy with the people who work hard every day to make Lexus’ INTERSECT spaces what they are.
Hundreds of colorful Matchbox cars playfully parked in neat rows on the bathroom ceiling at INTERSECT BY LEXUS Tokyo.
The second floor lounge and shop featuring the CRAFTED FOR LEXUS collection.
From the Tokyo space's entrance, elements of Lexus’s greatest automobile design signatures, including the spindle grille, can be seen in the building’s facade.
Kenji Kojima is head of the Tokyo branch of the revered coffee shop Fuglen, which provides coffee at INTERSECT BY LEXUS in Tokyo.
Q: How did the collaboration between FUGLEN AND LEXUS COME ABOUT?
A: Fuglen in Oslo has been around since 1963 and the Tokyo branch opened in 2012. We opened the café in Tokyo in order to share Norwegian coffee culture and lifestyle – we wanted to offer a Scandinavian coffee flavor that typically brings out the fruitiness of the beans. I remember people from Lexus paid a visit to our café in Yoyogi and ordered coffee. They seemed to be impressed by the taste but, more importantly, they showed a keen interest in our coffee-making style. Shortly after that, they proposed we work together.
Q: WHAT MADE YOU SAY YES?
A: They said they wanted to make the best café in the neighborhood. Our philosophy is that coffee is not the focal point of a café but a facilitator, where people meet and new things happen. We saw a correlation between our philosophy and Lexus’. We share the same values.
Q: WHY COFFEE?
A: It’s the trigger that makes things happen. Coffee can have a positive impact on people’s brains, and new things can happen because of that.
Daichi Tajima, a respected Japanese chef, is the food director at INTERSECT BY LEXUS in Tokyo.
Q: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF FOOD AT INTERSECT BY LEXUS?
A: Food is one of the space’s elements, and, of course, the most important aspect of the dining experience. But I regard it as just one of a range of key facets that intersect with other elements. Interior design, for example, can contribute to how food tastes, and good music can make food taste better.
Q: HOW DOES YOUR FOOD REPRESENT THE LUXURY OF THE SPACE?
A: The choice of ingredients and their quality is of course important but, before everything else, the food has to be tasty, and equally important is to maintain a feeling of luxury through style. We collaborated with Japanese designer SuyRo to create plates that were specially made to complement the presentation of the food, which, because my background is in French cooking, is influenced by the elegance of classic French cuisine.
Q: FRENCH CUISINE IS IMPORTANT AT INTERSECT?
A: Yes, but I didn’t want to create typically luxurious French food. I wanted to create a kind of mismatch by mixing various elements – high-quality ingredients, thoughtful recipes – to create a new kind of luxury.
Q: WHERE DO THESE INGREDIENTS COME FROM?
A: We work with suppliers we’ve met and cook dishes to best represent the freshness of their ingredients, including organic farmers in Hokkaido. We want to continue working with local farmers like them. That is healthy and it is luxury.
The INTERSECT lunch special covers various cuisines including French and Italian. Seasonal ingredients are used and main courses are accompanied by zakkokumai, a Japanese rice with mixed grains.
CHICKEN CURRY WITH DAISEN CHICKEN
An original recipe inspired by Anglo-Indian cuisines specially created for INTERSECT. This is “a typical kind of comfort food made into a stylish dish,” says Tajima.
PEAR & CHOCOLATE POT PIE WITH VANILLA ICE CREAM
For dessert, this is “a delicious contrast of cold ice cream and warm pear,” says Tajima, with a special treat – an aromatic chocolate sauce enclosed in the crust. A must-order.
Benjamin Nicholas is head of INTERSECT BY LEXUS in Dubai, Lexus’ second brand space. Nicholas leads a team that ensures guests receive the best service in a city that is synonymous with excellence in hospitality.
Q: HOW DOES SERVICE AT INTERSECT BY LEXUS DUBAI REFLECT THE LEXUS BRAND?
A: Lexus has always been well known when it comes to the level of service for its cars. That has always been the challenge for me, but we have been fortunate. When we opened the space, we spent 40 days training the team. What I found was that when you have people with interesting personalities and characters, they make a space feel homey. They have interactions with guests that make the space feel like their second homes. It is those details – that omotenashii – that Lexus stands for and what we’ve really focused on.
Q: HOW IS INTERSECT DIFFERENT TO ANY OTHER SPACE IN DUBAI, WHERE SERVICE LEVELS ARE VERY HIGH?
A: We don’t focus on being just a fine-dining venue. Rather, we aim to be a premium venue that offers a premium experience through the touchpoints we have. We provide service through our atmosphere.
Q: WHAT IS THAT ATMOSPHERE?
A: It boils down to the feeling you get when you’re in your own home. Our focus is not about selling that extra glass of wine or that extra side order. Ours is about creating an experience for those who come in so they keep coming back. It’s about the interaction – the whole experience.
Kirk Edmondson is general manager of INTERSECT BY LEXUS in New York, Lexus’ third brand space, which is due to launch later this year.
Q: INTERSECT BY LEXUS New York will open later this year in the CITY’S Meatpacking District. Why there?
A: It’s cutting edge in term’s of what’s happening in New York. It’s a trendsetting area. You have cultural institutions, you have parks, you have technology… New York is such a vibrant city, and we have a real passion for all that New York has to offer: the best of cuisine, the best of culture, the best of entertainment, architecture, design.
Q: What’s going to be in the New York INTERSECT space?
A: There will be a café and a gallery space. Upstairs we’ll have a cocktail lounge and a restaurant. From a cuisine standpoint, it will be elevated. And on the third floor there will be an events space large enough to accommodate 125 people.
Q: How important is INTERSECT’s location to its success?
A: Meatpacking is at the intersection of everything going on in New York. It’s interesting to think about that in relation to our name. It’s a microcosm of New York itself.