Benihana: 15 Things You Definitely Didn’t Know

Benihana has become more than a company – it’s an institution. However, despite the fact that the chain of Japanese restaurants has spent a considerable amount of time in the spotlight and under the scrutiny of the public eye, there are still some things that many people don’t know. With that in mind, here we present our list of 15 things you probably didn’t know about Benihana. Well, what are you waiting for? Check it out for yourself below!

Number Fifteen: The Chain Was Named After a Flower

The name “Benihana” came from the Japanese word for a red safflower. The chain’s founder named it after his parents’ coffee shop, which was named after the aforementioned safflower.

Number Fourteen: Its Founder Was an Olympic Wrestler

The company was founded by Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki. Aoki wrestled when he was in college and was so good that he earned a spot on Japan’s 1960 Olympic team.

Number Thirteen: Aoki Drove an Ice Cream Truck Before Opening Benihana

The seed money has to come from somewhere, right? Aoki drove a Mr. Softee truck in Harlem before opening the chain so he could afford it on his own.

Number Twelve: Aoki Opened the First Store When He Was 25

While many 25-year-olds today are stuck working entry-level jobs for which they’re grossly overqualified, Aoki was way ahead of the game. He opened the very first Benihana when he was just 25 years old.

Number Eleven: It Was Saved by a Single Positive Review

The business was failing in its first six months, and Aoki wasn’t convinced that people could attach themselves to the restaurant’s layout and style. However, a food writer named Clementine Paddleford gave such a glowing review in 1965 that people completely changed their minds.

Number Ten: Aoki Had a Near Death Experience With a Benihana-Branded Powerboat

Aoki was a true businessman and used the restaurant’s success to expand his brand. He ended up branding both cars and powerboats with the Benihana name, but once he was racing a powerboat and almost died near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Number Nine: They’ll Give You a Birthday Dinner for Free

The company is renowned for its association with birthday dinners, and they have a promotion to reflect this. Sign up for The Chef’s Table, and you’ll be rewarded with a $30 certificate to spend during your birthday month.

Number Eight: Aoki Sued His Children Over the Company

Aoki had placed his stakes with the company in a trust in the late 1990s, and in 2005, he sued four out of his seven children over this money. He claimed that his children were trying to take control of his assets.

Number Seven: His Famous Son Will Earn 50 Percent of the Company’s Trust When He Turns 45

You might know that Aoki’s son is the famous DJ Steve Aoki, but did you know he’s slated to inherit 50 percent of his father’s empire? A lawsuit in 2014 ruled that Steve and Devon Aoki would receive 50 percent each of the trust on their 45th birthdays.

Number Six: Aoki Didn’t Know How to Cook Before Opening Benihana

It’s true! According to the man himself, the only thing he could cook before opening the first location was french toast.

Number Five: The First Benihana Only Had Four Tables

This might seem unbelievable today, but when the very first location was opened, it had just four tables inside of it. The very first location was opened in Manhattan on West 56th Street.

Number Four: Aoki Held a World Record for 34 Years

Rocky Aoki set the record for the longest hot air balloon flight in 1981 in a Benihana-branded balloon. He traveled over 5,000 miles from Japan to California.

Number Three: Benihana’s Founder Ventured Into Porn

Aoki was involved with a porn magazine called Genesis for a brief period. The name stemmed from a club Aoki had opened in 1970.

Number Two: Rocky Aoki’s Ultra Herbal Power Slim

Nope, that’s not a dish you’ll find in any of the restaurant’s locations. Rocky Aoki’s Ultra Herbal Power Slim is the name of a diet pill that Aoki sold in the 1990s. The man truly was an entrepreneur.

Number One: It Makes a Special Cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street

The famous film starring Leonardo DiCaprio features Rocky Aoki (not actually played by Aoki) getting arrested in a Benihana. Interestingly, Rocky Aoki never had any real-life connections to Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio’s character). We hope you enjoyed our list of 15 things you didn’t know about Benihana!