The History of Teppanyaki in North America and the Experience of Benihana

The History of Teppanyaki in North America and the Experience of Benihana

When we think about Japanese cuisine, our minds drift to plates of meat served alongside pickled vegetables and rice or fish enveloped inside broth. Much of the world’s food culture revolves around iconic Japanese dishes, such as the crunchy tempura or the distinct sushi. However, the food we eat is derived from a rich history altered by the modernity of innovation.

The word “Omo” is sourced from “Omoide,” meaning memorable and pertaining to the momentous experience Omo Teppan & Kitchen aspires for all of our customers to gain. To achieve this, we’ve combined the memorable aspect of Teppanyaki (Japanese BBQ) with the experience brought from Benihana. Being one of the only two Japanese BBQs in Calgary, and being the only restaurant to style Benihana in Calgary, we specialize to ensure YYC food culture is diversified. However, Benihana has a profound history of its own.

Teppanyaki Origins and the Addition of Benihana

“Teppan” refers to ‘steel plate,’ while “yaki” comes from ‘grilled, broiled or pan-fried.’ The definitions of this word most clearly portray the aspect that Teppanyaki food is cooked on a hot steel plate. While originating in Tokyo, Japan, this style of food was quite popular among the foreigners. This led to Teppanyaki being brought to North American cuisine. Here, it is quite commonly known by the name “hibachi.”

Teppanyaki was made famous in the United States by the Benihana restaurants established in 1964, with their first opening in New York. Hiroaki Aoki, founder of the Benihana chain, spread a new way of dining at a restaurant all across North America. His father, Yunosuke Aoki (descendant of a samurai and a popular entertainer), inspired his son to bring something new to food. Hiroaki Aoki embodied respecting traditional values while innovating the way food is served in order to bring entertainment to the dinner table. He envisioned guests seated around a teppanyaki grill while they took in the stunning knife skills of the chef preparing their food in front of them. Moving to the U.S. to pursue his dream, Hiroaki would later become known as Rocky.

As with many entrepreneurs, Rocky required seed money. On the streets of Harlem, Rocky sold ice cream. Soon, West 56th street housed America’s first Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, of which included Rocky’s new style of dining. Legacy became legacy and this restaurant was named Benihana in honor of Rocky’s parents’ Tokyo coffee shop. “Benihana” symbolized the one red flower following the Bombing of Tokyo during World War II that Yunosuke Aoki saw growing despite the mountains of debris. This red safflower represented hope. After the iconic food critic Clementine Paddleford assessed Benihana with exceptional reviews, the business of Benihana skyrocketed. Hereafter, Rocky began to open more Benihana’s across the United States, his vision continuing on to those of us at Omo Teppan & Kitchen to open Calgary’s first and only Benihana Japanese BBQ.

How does Omo Teppan & Kitchen Embrace Aoki’s Mission of New Ideas?

The inspiring story of Rocky Aoki propelled us to immerse Calgary’s local cuisine with a modern way of eating and with bringing people together through a joyful experience. Omo Teppan & Kitchen admires Aoki’s drive to fulfill Americans with food they had not enjoyed before. Rocky Aoki combined Japanese food with entertainment and the label of modernism. At Omo Teppan & Kitchen, we provide appetizers, lunch, teppanyaki and sushi that embodies Japanese cuisine, valuing the entertainment of our benihana teppanyaki that Calgary has not seen before. We are the only Calgary location to offer Wagyu beef, a special type of high grade beef that will leave your mouth watering.

Eating at a local restaurant with friends, family or a significant other shouldn’t lack flavour, entertainment or memorability. The legacy of Hiroaki Aoki lives on at Omo Teppan & Kitchen and we cannot wait for Calgarians to experience it together.

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