Aoki opened the first Benihana in 1964 in Manhattan with the $10,000 he made while driving an ice cream truck around Harlem. Aoki, a wrestler who qualified for the 1960 Olympics in Rome as a member of the Japanese Olympic team, would later see the chain expand to 80 restaurants around the globe.
Benihana was the first restaurant to introduce Japanese-style food to the masses with its brand of teppan-yaki cooking. Over the years, the words Benihana and teppan-yaki became almost interchangeable. Benihana and its integration into American culture was one of the subjects in the Terry Sanders film The Japan Project: Made in Japan.
In February, The Hawaii Herald featured a story on the chain’s first female teppan-yaki chef, Aya Yamamoto.
He will be missed, but he lives on in the unmistakable food from his iconic restaurant.