Business People

15 Things You Might Not Have Known about Benihana and Founder Rocky Aoki and Fam

Main image courtesy of Benihana, Inc.

Hiroaki Aoki is best known as Rocky Aoki, and he made Benihana legendary amongst Japanese American restaurants. That legendary status continues to this day although his kids Steve and Devon Aoki are making names for themselves too.

Regardless if you spell it Benny Hannas or Benihana, here are 15 things you might not have known aside from not knowing how to spell Benihana.

Photo Description: a shot of the teppan which is a steel griddle a lot like the ones you would find in any diner.
Feel free to flip those shrimp right into my mouth like I am a trained seal. Image courtesy of LizzyinFocus who hands down has the best imagery of Benihana on Flickr.

1. It is not hibachi, it is teppanyaki.

Benihana gets it right, but the Midwest fails at knowing this.

2. Benihana means “Beni 紅” (crimson or deep red) and “Hana 花” (flower).

I know this because “beni shoga” and “hana matsuri”

3. Hiroaki was a wrestler who qualified for the 1960 summer Olympics, but he did not attend.

Thanks to good ole Wikipedia, I can tell you that he was at least later inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1995

4. Aoki started the company with $10k (equivalent to $82,436 in 2019 that he made driving an ice cream truck in Harlem).

What a hustler.

Photo Description: the West 56th street Benihana in New York City.
The West 56th Street location in New York City. Image courtesy of Leonard J. DeFrancisci

5. Benihana was founded by Hiroaki Aoki in New York in 1964.

His first place was on West 56th street.

6. Rocky Aoki had 3 wives and 7 kids.

Rocky hustled personally and in business.

7. Hiroaki Aoki is the father of EDM artist Steve Aoki and Fast’n’Furious star Devon Aoki.

In case you live under a rock www.steveaoki.com and instagram/devonaoki

8. Rocky Aoki started a softcore porno mag named Genesis, partially funded the first hot air balloon to cross the pacific (Double Eagle V), and raced power boats (twin hulls).

I personally can ride a bike.

Photo Description: one of the chefs at Benihana in the good ole US of A. On the teppanyaki the fried rice is shaped in the shape of a heart.
Your wingman on prom dates and dates in general. Image courtesy of Benihana, Inc.

9. Aoki passed away in 2008 at the age of 69.

69 bro.

10. In 2012, Benihana was purchased for $296 million by the private equity company Angelo Gordon & Company.

Benihana to Be Acquired by Angelo, Gordon & Co.’s Private Equity Group for $296 Million.

11. Benihana has approximately 78 locations and 10 franchised restaurants throughout the United States, Central and South America.

Angelo Gordon has refinanced Benihana.

12. The private equity company also owns and operates Benihana, Samurai, Haru, and RA sushi (Benihana, Inc./BI).

Angelo Gordon has been investing in global credit and real estate markets for over 30 years.

Photo Description: a shot of a dining area of a Benihana in Bangkok, Thailand. The dining area has rows and rows of teppanyaki grills. Each grill has 5 place settings, 3 directly in front and 2 on the side. Directly above each tappanyaki are ducts with spotlighting (5 recessed lights). The seats are red with all black framing. You can see outside due to the large floor to ceiling windows and outside are palm trees.
This is how they do it in Bangkok, Thailand. Image courtesy of Roderick Eime

13. A second entity is Benihana of Tokyo, LLC (BOT) headed by the 3rd wife and CEO, Keiko Aoki. She owns and operates approximately 20 restaurants in Hawaii, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Benihana widow says hedge fund pushing her to sell.

14. At the age of 45, both Devon (currently 38 y/o) and Steve Aoki (43 y/o) will inherit a shared sum of 50 million dollars.

Benihana heirs try to stop stepmom from wasting inheritance (Devon was born on August 10th, 1982 and Steve on November 30th, 1977).

15. The Mental Floss article has a great “11 facts about Benihana” and the vast majority of their information is not readily found on the web (it is more in-depth).

Hey, I got to give credit where credit is due, and I highly suggest you head on over to the MentalFloss article because Suzanne Raga threw down (I’m not exaggerating).

Why the Somewhat Redundant Content?

I did it because there is a certain nostalgia and fame associated with Benihana although I have not been to the restaurant in decades (I was reminded of the restaurant because I lived in Newport Heights which is where Newport Harbor high school is located and where Steve Aoki graduated from).

I just never went after finding out that a private equity took it over because I thought it was over for the brand. Except, after all the research I just did, I think Angelo Gordon is doing just fine carrying on the Japanese-inspired icon for decades to come, which is why I have a renewed interest to hit up the one on Tamarac drive in Denver (oddly enough, the one in Newport Beach was also only minutes away too – a good omen). 

Just keep in mind that entrée menu prices are about $20-$40 each for either chicken, steak, chateaubriand, shrimp, colossal shrimp, tuna steak, salmon, scallops, to twin lobster tails, so be sure to go with someone that you have done your research on too. Unless you already have two other babies mama, then I don’t want to stop your Rocky Aoki like streak.

5 comments

  1. Awesome post! I had checked into this a little, but didn’t find nearly as much information as you. Perhaps I was a little lazy. I have not been to Benihanna, but did stop in at a competitor in Montreal. I cannot remember the name, but it was okay.
    Now you have made me hungry. I was going to work on my post for today (I am late) but now I have to have an early lunch.

      1. It’s just there are not a whole lot of Japanese in the US, so many restaurants are owned and operated by non-Japanese who don’t know the difference from yakitori, hibachi, to yakiniku…. you got it right tho by saying “advertised as Japanese” haha

      2. In Toronto, most Japanese restaurants are owned/run by Koreans. Lately, they have presented menus which showcase both cuisines.

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