8665 NW 53rd Terrace
Miami, Florida 33166
Telephone: (305) 593-0770
Fax: (305) 592-6371
Incorporated: 1964 as Benihana of Tokyo
Sales: $81.6 million (fiscal year ending March 31, 1996)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
SICs: 5810 Retail Eating & Drinking Places
Helping our guests feel welcome is as important as our cooking. And it is just as great a skill. Ever striving for excellence in hospitality, it is truly our restaurant family who has built Benihana's success.
Benihana, Inc. owns and licenses restaurants in the Benihana and Benihana Grill chain of Japanese dinnerhouses. The restaurants specialize in an exhibition-style of Japanese cooking called teppanyaki. Customers sit around a communal table at which a Benihana chef slices their seafood, steak, chicken, and vegetables with lightning speed, grills their meal right in front of them, and then tosses it accurately onto their plates. The restaurants are decorated with Samurai armor and valuable art, and Shoji rice paper screens partition the dining areas. For the fiscal year ending March 31, 1996, the company had sales of over $81 million, an all-time high. By December 1996, Benihana operated a total of 49 licensed and wholly owned restaurants in 20 states as well as in Bogota, Columbia, and Aruba, Netherlands Antilles.
Early History, from Tokyo to New York
The founder of Benihana, Inc. was a 25-year-old Olympic wrestler from Japan named Hiroaki Rocky Aoki. He got his start in the restaurant business by working after school in his family's coffee shop in downtown Tokyo. His mother named the family business Benihana after a red flower that survived the bombing of Tokyo during World War II. Rocky was a scrapper, defending himself in the streets and schoolyards against bigger boys. He got hooked on wrestling, became a national university champion, and earned a place on the 1960 Olympic team. Although he didn't compete because he was over his weight limit, he did fall in love with New York when the plane stopped there on the way to the Games in Rome. That fall he left Japan for the United States.
In 1964, Aoki graduated from New York Community College's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. During the summer he earned money driving the only ice cream truck in Harlem. The job was not easy, as he explained in an article in Management Review. "Every time I robbed, I get up earlier the next day and work later to make up. Every time I lose money, I get more challenge." With that philosophy, he managed to save $10,000 during the summer, which, along with a loan, was enough to start his first restaurant, Benihana of Tokyo.
Aoki's concept for his new restaurant, derived from specialty restaurants he knew of in Japan, was part entertainment and part food service. He wanted to offer Americans food they were familiar with, such as chicken, steak, and shrimp, prepared in a novel setting. He chose the teppanyaki table--a stainless steel grill surrounded by a wooden eating surface--where customers could watch a knife-wielding, joke-telling chef prepare and serve their food. His parents and brothers came from Japan to help him get started.
Unfortunately, New Yorkers equated Japanese food with raw fish and weren't comfortable sitting at a table with strangers. They ignored the midtown Manhattan eatery until the restaurant critic of the New York Herald Tribune gave it a glowing review. Suddenly, everyone in New York, including the Beatles and Muhammad Ali, wanted to sit around one of Benihana of Tokyo's four teppanyaki tables. Within six months after the review the restaurant had paid for itself, and Aoki quickly opened another restaurant in a larger, fancier building. The new location provided the same teppanyaki-style cooking but was decorated with valuable art, Samurai armor, heavy wooden ceiling beams brought from Japan by Aoki's father, and sliding Shoji...