How Was "Benihana" Named?
Benihana is the name of a chain of Japanese restaurants known for the flavor of its food as much as the showmanship with which it is prepared in front of the customers.
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.
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