Benihana's is my all-time favorite restuarant, it is an amasing Japanese cusine indeed. You cant even get into one without calling in advance for reservations, which tells you, this company has awesome profitability. I've been going to this restuarant for my birthday as a tradition since I turned a mere 7 years of age in 1986. That shows how truely wonderful and how special this restuarant is to me, I don't ever see this tradition being broken off, nor would I like it to be. - Paladino
Benihana has its roots in Japan in the years immediately following World War II. Yunosuke Aoki, a samurai descendant and entertainer, along with his wife, Katsu, opened a small coffee shop in Tokyo. The shop was named "Benihana" ("red flower" in Japanese) after a red safflower that grew in the streets. Run by the Aokis and their four sons, this coffee shop eventually became a full service restaurant.
The eldest son, Hiroaki (later Americanized as Rocky) took after his father's appreciation for the theatrical, including the notion of combining Japanese food with entertainment. Rocky opened his first restaurant in 1964 in New York on West 56th Street with room enough for just four tables.
The interior of the restaurant was styled after a Japanese farmhouse. The food was prepared before the customers at their tables in the teppanyaki style (Teppan meaning "steel grill" and yaki meaning "broiled"). Partly due to the restaurant's proximity to Broadway, Aoki believed showmanship and entertainment at Benihana was of great importance. The chefs would not only cook the food with flair, but also make sure all the different ingredients were served simultaneously. With emphasis placed on high customer contact service, the restaurant can be recognized as a service innovation, while Aoki's grouping of eight people per table ensured a profitable cycle time. See Service management.
Within six months after opening, particularly following a rave review by Clementine Paddleford, restaurant critic for the New York Herald-Tribune, business boomed, and the Aoki family initiated massive expansion projects. Again, the experience at Benihana was highly choreographed, with guests spending time buying alcoholic drinks in the bar while waiting for a table to be assembled for eight guests. For many years, Benihana was the face of Japanese cuisine within America, thanks both to corporate-owned and franchise locations through the country and the novelty of preparing food in front of patrons. While the authenticity of Benihana's Japanese cuisine has been questioned by food experts, it remained the most popular exponent of Japanese food until the explosion of credible sushi bars throughout the United States beginning in the late 1980s.
Benihana claims that they have served more than 100,000,000 meals since the opening of their first restaurant in 1964. Many people credit Benihana with bringing ersatz Japanese food to the attention of many Americans as well as making sushi and soy sauce household words. Benihana's famous figural "tiki mugs" for exotic cocktails, the most common of which depicts "Hotei" a chubby buddha-like figure with arms raised in the air, have become highly collectible.
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