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Benihana Founder Dies in NYC From Complications From Cancer

dod-h-riroaki "Rocky" Aoki died from pneumonia on Friday. From the AP

Born Hiroaki Aoki, he worked in the family business, a coffee shop in Japan, and wanted to offer diners "something out of the ordinary," along with their food. Aoki also inherited his father's love for theater, according to the restaurant's Web site.

He held a spot on the Japanese Olympic wrestling team, which eventually brought him to America. He served ice cream by day and studied restaurant management at night, dreaming of opening a restaurant that would blend entertainment and food.

He opened his first restaurant in New York in 1964, naming it Benihana, which means "red flower" — the same name as his parent's coffee shop.


What a life this fellow had.

He was an avid wrestler, balloonist and backgammon player. Family members said Aoki crossed the Pacific Ocean in a balloon with his Double Eagle V crew on a flight from Japan to California in 1981.


He is the very embodiment of the American Dream. In my opinion the guy is the Father of the Modern Japanese Steakhouse. He set the standard that others can only follow.

Benihana's of Tokyo has been one of my favorite restaurants for over 30 years. I have great memories of special occasions spent in his establishments. Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, graduations, and scads of other life events.

Never had a bad meal in one of these places and dining there was always an entertaining experience.

Don't know what the family intends, but I hope they don't change a thing.

So long, Mr. Aoki. Thanks for all the memories.

viaAP online article

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