Rocky Aoki


MIAMI (AP) - Rocky Aoki, who sought to offer diners a sense of magic and entertainment at his Japanese steakhouse Benihana, has died after complications from cancer. He was 69.

Aoki, whose Benihana empire includes more than 100 restaurants worldwide, died Thursday night in New York from pneumonia, surrounded by his wife and six children, company spokeswoman Nancy Bauer said Friday.

Born Hiroaki Aoki, he worked in the family business, a coffee shop in Japan, and wanted to offer diners "something out of the ordinary," along with their food. Aoki also inherited his father's love for theater, according to the restaurant's Web site.

He held a spot on the Japanese Olympic wrestling team, which eventually brought him to America. He served ice cream by day and studied restaurant management at night, dreaming of opening a restaurant that would blend entertainment and food.

He opened his first restaurant in New York in 1964, naming it Benihana, which means "red flower" — the same name as his parent's coffee shop.

Designed to look like an authentic Japanese farmhouse interior, food was prepared "teppan-yaki" style at the table on a steel grill, where specially trained chefs performed knife tricks while cooking up the restaurant's signature shrimp, steak and chicken dishes.

In 1999, Miami-based Benihana purchased a majority share in Haru, an upscale, New York sushi restaurant, and eventually opened nine others. The company later acquired the RA Sushi restaurants, which bloomed to 19 locations nationally.

The Benihana empire has grown to 5,000 employees.

"Rocky's legacy is much greater than Benihana; he was also a well-known sportsman, philanthropist, environmentalist and author," Benihana chairman and CEO Joel Schwartz said in a statement.

He was an avid wrestler, balloonist and backgammon player. Family members said Aoki crossed the Pacific Ocean in a balloon with his Double Eagle V crew on a flight from Japan to California in 1981.

The Rocky H. Aoki Foundation has benefited Juvenile Diabetes, the Leukemia Society and the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press

Guest Book

Not sure what to say?

thank you for best chicken fried rice on the planet

This guy is my hero thank you for never giving up and making Benihana possible

I worked for rocky aoki at his first benihana of tokyo of new york .I was a young girl .I have many good memories back then . Rocky was always kind and thoughtful. .for some reason I was thinking of benihana and rocky and saw that he had passed. God bless and rest in peace.

Rest in peace

Seems like a great guy!
He has one of the most beautiful women on earth as a daughter,Devon.

Rocky and I in Costa Rica

I once met Rocky while on vacation in Costa Rica. We shared pleasantries and business cards while riding down an elevator. For several years afterward, I would receive a Christmas card from him. He was a class act.

May God Bless you, Rocky. It was nice knowing you. Twins-Janice & Joyce Ehling

WOW! I was just thinking of himm and thought I would see what he was up to, What a full life you had, and have given! I trust you will have a bright passing!!! Michael