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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 6 Interesting Facts about Benihana - Curious Details about the Renowned Japanese Steakhouse Chain
Joanna James Joanna James
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6 Interesting Facts about Benihana - Curious Details about the Renowned Japanese Steakhouse Chain

Learn a few obscure details and facts about the Japanese restaurant chain known as 'Benihana': from what it is named after to its significant legal troubles.


The Founder of Benihana was a Wrestler with No Culinary Experience

Benihana is a Japanese restaurant chain which was founded in 1964 by Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki. He was a wrestler at Keio University who qualified to enter the 1960 Olympics but did not actually participate in the Olympic Games. Nevertheless, he earned a spot on the Japanese Wrestling team for the said Olympics. Subsequently, he moved to and settled down in the United States of America.


The Seed Money to Open the Restaurant came from Driving an Ice Cream Truck

Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki rented and drove a Mr. Softee ice cream truck in and around Harlem and he earned around $10, 000 which he then used to fund his new venture, Benihana. In addition to this, he also asked his father to invest in the restaurant. He was only 25 years old when he opened the first Benihana restaurant on West 56th Street in Manhattan.


The Restaurant is Named After a Flower Which was Seen Blooming after the WWII

Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki's choice of name for the restaurant has an intriguing story behind. He named it after a coffee shop of the same name which was owned by Yunosuke and Katsu, his parents. One day, after the deadly bombing of the capital of Japan, Tokyo during the Second World War, Yunosuke is said to have seen a red flower which was, despite all odds, blooming amidst the rubble and the destruction. He decided to call their shop the Japanese word for a red Safflower, namely, Benihana.


Benihana Was Not an Immediate Success

Like most things, Benihana did not experience immediate success. In fact, even though it was opened in 1964, it only became successful in 1965 following a review by Clementine Paddleford in the New York Herald Tribune. Following the rave review, Benihana became an instant hit attracting major celebrities such as the Beatles and Muhammad Ali as well. However, following its success, the company expanded across the USA as well as globally resulting in the opening of a Japanese steakhouse in Bangkok. At present, there are three steakhouses under Benihana Thailand.


Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki faced legal Trouble since the 1990s

Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki pled guilty to insider trading during the late 1990s. Following this plea, he placed his share of stakes in the restaurant in a trust and stepped down as the Chairman of the company. However, in 2005 he filed legal action against four of his children claiming that they were disloyal and were trying to gain control of his considerable wealth. In response, his children insisted that they were attempting to protect their inheritance from Keiko Ono, Aoki's third wife. Litigation between the children and the third wife continued even after Aoki's death in 2008.


An Actor Portraying Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street

An actor portraying the founder of Benihana played a cameo in the hit Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street. However, it has since been clarified that Hiroaki 'Rocky' Aoki and Jordan Belfort had no connection to each other in real life.