Friday, 30 August 2013

Look Out for Teppanyaki Restaurant Benihana Opening at Epicuria, Nehru Place

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The facade of a Benihana outlet in the United States.
Image courtesy of www.benihana.com.
THE COUNTDOWN has started for the country’s first Benihana to open its doors, a little less than 50 years after Olympic wrestler-turned-ice-cream-truck-driver Hiroaki ‘Rocky’ Aoki launched the first with $20,000 at West 56th Street in New York City. Benihana (Japanese for ‘red flower’) is an international chain of teppanyaki grill and sushi restaurants that are famous for their theatrical chefs, who juggle spatulas and eggs as they dish out their trademark preparations.
The catchy art work on Epicuria's Facebook page. Go to
https://www.facebook.com/epicuriadelhi
Having inspired copycats across the world, including TK’s at Hyatt Regency New Delhi, Benihana has grown into a 116-strong chain of company-owned and franchised restaurants in 17 countries. Its colourful thrice-married founder, who briefly also ran a pornographic magazine named Genesis, died in 2008, four years after getting embroiled in a legal dispute with his family.
The restaurant chain was eventually bought by the private equity fund, Angelo Gordon & Company, for $249 million in 2012. The deal, explained Forbes.com, “will take the company private, dropping the curtain on a painfully public family drama that’s played out over the years”. Rocky’s son, electro-house deejay Steve Aoki, who is famous for showering cakes on his audiences, completed a successful concert tour of India last year. (Please read the clarification sent by R.J. Ferrara of Benihana of Tokyo. I have appended it below. It make the corporate structure of the restaurant chain that much clearer. Thank you, Mr Ferrara.)
India’s first Benihana will open at Epicuria, the new food hub at New Delhi’s busy business district, Nehru Place, owned by the brother of the talented fashion designer Varun Bahl. It has names like Chicago Pizza Kitchen, Fio and KFC vying for the attention of Metro commuters and office-goers, but Epicuria is making news because of ramp model Joey Matthew’s immensely successful Kerala Express restaurant. Benihana’s theatricality will be a bright new addition to this foodie destination.
What is Benihana all about? I’ll let its website (http://www.benihanaindia.com/experience.asp) do the talking on the ‘Benihana experience’.
“At the heart of the Benihana experience,” the website says, “is the teppanyaki table, around which guests gather and enjoy a meal expertly prepared and cooked to perfection on a steel grill, right before their eyes — by a chef who is as much entertainer as culinary master.
“The meal begins with a delicate Japanese onion soup, followed by a salad with ginger dressing. The chef will prepare your chicken, beef or seafood, along with vegetables, hibachi-style, on the sizzling grill surface. Be sure to enjoy the show, because Benihana chefs literally play with your food as they cook it.
“Your entrĂ©e will be served with homemade dipping sauces and steamed rice, or if you prefer, Benihana’s mouthwatering hibachi chicken rice. You may also order tempura, sushi and specialty rolls.” That’s a tempting spread. Must go and try it, and wash it down with sake served in Benihana’s signature tiki mugs, especially the one modelled after a hotei, a tubby Buddha-like figure with an expansive smile and hands raised in the air.

This note from R.J. Ferrara from the New York offices of Benihana of Tokyo makes the corporate structure of the restaurant chain crystal clear to business reporting novices like me!

Benihana Inc. and Benihana of Tokyo, which owns along with a local partner the Benihana in New Delhi, are in fact two different and separate companies with different territories, but operating under the same brand.
In 1983, in order to raise capital to grow the Benihana brand worldwide, while maintaining control over the quality of Benihana, Rocky Aoki chose to take part of the Benihana chain public. As a result, Benihana of Tokyo, the founding company which created the Benihana brand and concept, remained privately owned, controlling the territories of Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, Oceania, Africa, and Asia. Benihana Incorporated (BI), the subsidiary company to former Benihana National Corporation (BNC) which was the company that went public, has control over the continental United States, the Caribbean, and South America.
Angelo Gordon (separate from Benihana of Tokyo), the private equity firm that you cited in your post, owns territory rights to the continental US, Caribbean and South America. The buyout in 2012 resulted in Benihana Inc. and their territories going private.
After passing away in 2008, Rocky Aoki, whom owned Benihana of Tokyo outright, left the company to his wife, Keiko Ono Aoki, and the RHA Trust (Rocky H. Aoki Trust). The new restaurant in New Delhi falls within the territory of Benihana of Tokyo, and is owned by Benihana of Tokyo and a local Indian partner.