14 Things You Didn’t Know About Benihana

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This teppanyaki chain is a true American success story

14 Things You Didn’t Know About Benihana

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. 

It Was Founded by a Former Professional Wrestler

Hiroaki Aoki, known in the U.S. as Rocky, was born in Tokyo and took up wrestling in college. He qualified for the 1960 Summer Olympics but didn’t compete, and later went on to win the United States Flyweight title in 1962, 1963, and 1964.

Aoki Raised Seed Money by Driving an Ice Cream Truck

Aoki Raised Seed Money by Driving an Ice Cream Truck

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While studying for his associate’s degree in restaurant management, Aoki worked seven days a week driving an ice cream truck in Harlem, gaining popularity thanks to the little paper umbrellas he put into each ice cream cone. After graduating in 1963, he used the $10,000 he’d been able to save driving the truck (along with an investment from his father) to open the first restaurant. 

It Was the First Teppanyaki-Style Restaurant to Open in America

Before Benihana, the act of sitting around a large metal griddle with other diners and watching your meal be prepared in front of you by an entertaining chef had never been seen stateside.  

The Beatles and Muhammad Ali Were Early Fans

The Beatles and Muhammad Ali Were Early Fans

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It took about a year for the restaurant to catch on, but once it did it absolutely took off. The restaurant only had four tables, and early visitors included The Beatles, Sean Connery, Lawrence Welk, and Muhammad Ali. 

The Original Interior Was an Old Japanese Barn

Aoki’s father shipped over an entire 150-year-old barn from Japan to New York, and it was reconstructed as the restaurant’ interior. 

Aoki Was a True Renaissance Man

Before opening Benihana, Aoki was a bassist in a rock band as well as a champion wrestler. In the 1970s he took to powerboat racing, won five U.S. offshore races, and founded the “Benihana Grand Prix,” before giving it up after two life-threatening injuries. In the 1980s he became a balloonist, crossing the Pacific Ocean on a record-setting flight between Japan and California; he originally planned to go around the world but had to stop due to a severe storm. He also won the first 1,300-mile Milan to Moscow Road Rally in 1987 driving a vintage Rolls-Royce, won four World Backgammon Championships, founded a softcore men’s magazine called Genesis, was a major environmentalist and philanthropist, and wrote 13 business motivational books before dying in 2008 at the age of 69. And what have you done lately!

Aoki’s Son Is One of America’s Biggest Electro House Musicians

Aoki’s Son Is One of America’s Biggest Electro House Musicians

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Aoki’s 38 year-old son, Steve Aoki, is one of America’ most popular electro house and EDM musicians and producers, and was 2012’s highest-grossing dance artist from tours. His album Wonderland was nominated for a Grammy in 2013, and Neon Future I reached number one on the Dance/ Electronic Albums charts in the U.S. He’s collaborated with artists including Lil Jon, Iggy Azalea, and will.i.am, and also founded a charity for global humanitarian relief organizations. 

It Owns a Couple Smaller Sushi Chains

It Owns a Couple Smaller Sushi Chains

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Benihana also owns the six popular Haru sushi restaurants in New York, as well as RA Sushi, which has 27 locations in nine states. 

Chef Training Can Take Up to Six Months

Chef Training Can Take Up to Six Months

Photo Modified: Flickr/ kennejima/ CC4.0

A Benihana chef needs to prove that he or she has an outgoing and enthusiastic personality before being hired, and the chef then begins training in the kitchen, learning how to prepare the food properly. Once the chef has mastered the cooking aspect, he or she is trained in showmanship.

It Holds the Record for the Longest-Running Dinner Show on Earth

It Holds the Record for the Longest-Running Dinner Show on Earth

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When you dine at Benihana you’re watching a performance (if not exactly dinner theater), which makes the restaurant chain the longest-running dinner show on earth. 

There’s a Secret Ingredient in Its Fried Rice

There’s a Secret Ingredient in Its Fried Rice

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Tom Caswell/ CC4.0

When your chef makes the restaurant’s signature fried rice, it may look like he’s adding plain butter to it. It’s actually garlic butter, which many claim is the secret to its success. 

The Flaming Onion Trick Is a Lot Easier Than It Looks

To make the flaming onion, a thick slice taken from the center of the onion is stacked into a pyramid, a little oil and vodka is added, and the vodka is ignited. While you technically can make this at home, we wouldn’t recommend it. 

Tori Spelling Was Seriously Injured There Last Year

Tori Spelling Was Seriously Injured There Last Year

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The 90210 actress was dining at a Beverly Hills Benihana on Easter 2015 when she apparently slipped and sustained second- and third-degree burns on her arm. Her injuries were so severe they required skin grafts, and she’s reportedly suing the company for more than $25,000. 

There’s Currently a Contest to Name a New Menu Addition

Want to be a part of Benihana history? The chain has introduced a new filet mignon and chicken combo to the menu, and, it is crowdsourcing the name. If you have a name in mind, you can get all the details here