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Meet the Aokis: On Slicing and Dicing Benihana

This week, New York drops a feature on Benihana/Haru kingpin Rocky Aoki, his three wives and five children, including model daughter Devon Aoki, all of whom want a piece of the $60-million-plus Benihana fortune. All at the same time It's restaurant marketing 101, the story of a classicly dysfunctional NY family and the biography of a patriarch who by 1980 was, in his own words, "like Trump." Here's a taste:

Rocky studied restaurant management at New York City Technical College, won two AAAU wrestling championships, and drove an ice-cream truck. “Everybody afraid to sell ice-cream in Harlem then,” he says, so Rocky taped a newspaper article about his wrestling championships to the side of his truck to scare off thieves and had the neighborhood to himself. He made $10,000 in the summer of 1963, enough to persuade his father to co-invest in a four-table restaurant. Rocky wanted to apply the Japanese teppanyaki concept to the trusty “beef, chicken, and shrimp” formula he’d studied in college, but his vaudevillian father thought that was boring. “He say, ‘Rocky, chefs cooking on an open grill is not what American likes to see—could you do some showmanship in front of customer?”
So Rocky, just 25, asked his reluctant chefs to clang knives, juggle shrimp, and crack jokes. For six months, he lost money, then a rave from the New York Herald Tribune brought crowds and taught him the value of media. “Soon, all the television wants to interview me.” Soon, he was opening new restaurants in Chicago, Honolulu, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. As if that weren’t enough, he says, “One night in back of restaurant, I invent green-tea ice cream.” He also says he invented the saketini.
· Rocky's Family Horror Show [NYM]

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