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 (his other five kids aren’t doing so bad either).
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.
If you are wondering how Japanese Benihana “hibachi” sauces are, I have a blog post on the ingredients used and their similarities to traditional Japanese cuisine.They are an Asian American concoction.
1. It is not hibachi, it is teppanyaki.
Benihana gets it right, but the Midwest fails at knowing that the grill used is called a teppanyaki. In Japan, a hibachi is a room heater and has nothing to do with food.
2. Benihana means “Beni 紅” (crimson or deep red) and “Hana 花” (flower).
I know this because “beni shoga” and “hana matsuri.” The name was taken from his parents coffee shop in Japan.
3. Hiroaki was a wrestler who qualified for the 1960 summer Olympics, but he did not attend.
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.
5. Benihana was founded by Hiroaki Aoki in New York in 1964.
His first place was on 47 West 56th street and it is still operating.
6. Rocky Aoki had 3 wives and 7 kids.
Rocky hustled personally and in business. Two of his kids most of you know, Steve Aoki and Devon Aoki. The other five are Echo Aoki, Kevin Aoki, Jen Aoki Crumb, Kana Grace Nootenboom, and Kyle Aoki.
Kevin (Steve Aoki’s brother) is a restauranteur of the Aoki Group which owns (locations in Florida, Hawaii, to California):
7. Hiroaki Aoki is the father of EDM artist Steve Aoki and Fast’n’Furious star Devon Aoki.
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 only ride a bike regarding my talents, and I doubt most people can come close to Rocky Aoki’s accolades.
9. Aoki passed away in 2008 at the age of 69.
10. In 2012, Benihana was purchased for $296 million by the private equity company Angelo Gordon & Company.
11. Benihana has approximately 78 locations and 10 franchised restaurants throughout the United States, Central and South America.
12. The private equity company also owns and operates Benihana, Samurai, Haru, and RA sushi (Benihana, Inc./BI).
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.
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).
Anybody who is Asian American, there is a certain nostalgia for the Karate Kid and Benihana because they were positive examples of Japanese culture (I cannot say the same for Sixteen Candles and Long Duk Dong).Gedde Watanabe is a Japanese American actor who played an “Asian” foreign exchange student. Also, RIP Pat Morita.
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.