We've all heard of Benihana. Heck you may have even been to one recently but do you know the story behind one of the most popular Japanese restaurants?
As cliché as it may sound, it all started with a young boy and his dream. Hiroaki Aoki spent many of his days at his dad's coffee shop in Tokyo, Japan where he admired the work his dad did. Hiroaki's father, Yunosuke, strived to set his coffee shop apart from the others through doing simple things like traveling many miles to purchase real sugar (something that other coffee shops rarely served). Seeing how his dad set his self apart Hiroaki knew he had to start his own restaurant and do the same.
As a young adult Hiroaki was quite an accomplished wrestler. His hard work and dedication led him to becoming a champion wrestler in Japan which took him all the way to the olympics. That's right the founder of Benihana was a member of the Japanese Olympic team. Now some think that his skills as a wrestler came from the fact that he's a descendent of a samurai warrior, that's right a SAMURAI WARRIOR! How stellar is that?! Hiroaki's talent granted him a scholarship that brought him to the U.S. for college. Hiroaki became known as Rocky and rocked the wrestling world winning him national wrestling titles that would eventually lead to an induction into America's National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
When Rocky wasn't being a wicked wrestler he was working hard in school studying restaurant management. To add to it all he spent his days, all 7 of them, working in an ice cream truck he rented in Harlem. As it turns out people in Harlem really liked ice cream, I think its safe to say most people like ice cream, but those in Harlem really really liked ice cream. Thanks to the ice cream lovers and of course through his hard work Rocky was able to save up a hefty $10,000 (this money was in part what he needed to start his first restaurant). With the money he saved and a loan from the bank Rocky was able to open his first restaurant in 1964 which was named...you guessed it Benihana! What you may not have guessed was that Benihana was actually the name of his dad's coffee shop in Tokyo.
Benihana was the first teppanyaki restaurant in the U.S. setting it apart from any other restaurant. What attracted and kept the customers coming were the highly trained chefs that not only prepared the tastiest of foods but also put on a show. One great review from a famous food critic later and Benihana was a huge success. With success came more restaurants and even more loads of cash.
While his restaurants were booming rocky added these titles under his belt:
club owner, adult magazine owner, world backgammon champion, record holder for the longest balloon flight, deep-sea treasure hunter, champion powerboat racer, insider trading convict, husband, and father.
In 2008 Rocky passed away at the age of 69 leaving behind a legacy and quite a life story.