There’s a lot to like about Benihana: the food, the show, the charming chefs, and the fact that you get to watch your meal be prepared right in front of you. But even if you’ve celebrated every birthday of your life there, we bet that there’s a lot you didn’t know about this popular teppanyaki chain.
The first Benihana was opened in 1964 at 61 West 56th Street in New York by 25-year-old Rocky Aoki, a Japanese ex-pat who named the restaurant after a coffee shop that was owned by his parents in Tokyo (Benihana translates to “safflower,” and legend has it that Aoki’s father saw a single one growing from the ruins of Tokyo after World War II). The small restaurant got a major boost when legendary food writer Clementine Paddleford of the New York Herald Tribune gave it a glowing review, and Aoki immediately set his sights on opening additional locations.
A second, larger Manhattan location opened in 1966, a Chicago location opened in 1968, and a San Francisco outpost opened in 1979. The company went public in 1982, and in 1985, 1988, and 1989 it was voted the most popular restaurant in America by Restaurant & Institutions Magazine. Between 1983 and 1997, it expanded from 11 restaurants to 47, and today there are 64 locations worldwide under the ownership of private equity firm Angelo Gordon & Company.
A visit to Benihana is unlike any other restaurant experience you’ll ever have. While seated around the 350-degree teppanyaki table (also sometimes called a hibachi-style table), diners drink tiki drinks out of Buddha-shaped mugs and watch their multi-course meal be prepared by a joke-telling, shrimp-flipping, knife-swinging chef who operates with expert precision. Read on to learn 14 things you most likely didn’t know about this unique chain and its legendary founder.