Other Notable Deaths

OTHER NOTABLE DEATHS

July 12, 2008

HIROAKI 'ROCKY' AOKI, 69

Steakhouse founder

Rocky Aoki, who sought to offer diners a sense of magic and entertainment at his Japanese steakhouse Benihana, has died after complications from cancer. Mr. 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.

Born Hiroaki Aoki, he worked in the family business, a coffee shop in Japan, and wanted to offer diners "something out of the ordinary" with their food. Mr. 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 parents' coffee shop.

Designed to look like the inside of an authentic Japanese farmhouse, 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.

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