Rocky Aoki's tenacity and innate skills as a businessman were fostered long before he came to America with his dream of establishing Benihana. His father, a local restaurant owner in Japan, taught Rocky at an early age that hard work and a strong determination would help him in all walks of life, which is exactly what Rocky applied his strong work ethic to.
Rocky, arriving in America with barely enough money to eat, let alone start a restaurant, scraped his way through college with one constant dream in his mind- that being to start a restaurant that would change the face of both the restaurant world, as well as the idea of entertainment.
One of Rocky's first business ventures was to sell ice cream in the heart of Harlem, New York. He rented a truck for $25 a day, and quickly became a neighborhood favorite because he included Japanese cocktail umbrellas in the ice cream, making his ice cream a unique treat for everyone. Rocky's money-making idea wasn't without troubles however. While selling ice cream in Harlem was profitable, Rocky was mugged three times as well as stabbed twice. Despite all these dangerous obstacles, Rocky managed to save up $10,000 and take out a loan to start the very first Benihana. Imagine, it all started from an ice cream truck.
Since the first Benihana opened in 1964, Rocky's life has been dedicated to the restaurant now recognized as the most well known international restaurant. He promoted the Benihana name through countless publicity stunts where he not only risked the business of the restaurant, but his own life as well.
The first Benihana of Tokyo restaurant paid for itself in six months. Rocky opened another Benihana restaurant in New York just three blocks to the east of the original, then moved on to Chicago to build his third just four years later. The second restaurant paid for itself in less than a year. Chicago proved extremely successful, making more profits than both New York restaurants combined. By 1972, Rocky Aoki had opened six Benihana of Tokyo restaurants, using company profits to invest in the new locations.
Sadly, Rocky Aoki passed away in 2008. His legacy lives on in the global brand and cultural icon he created, as generations continue to enjoy the Benihana experience in restaurants worldwide.