Revisiting the life of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki, you may need to wear a helmet

Restaurant Rewind: Calling the wrestler-turned-playboy a free spirit is like saying Michael Jordan could shoot.

He ran a soft-porn magazine, called Muhammad Ali a pal, cycled through romantic interests the way some restaurants run through specials, and relaxed by racing boats and piloting a hot-air balloon. 

After one of his brushes with death, he awoke in a hospital room with his then-current wife on one side of the bed and his girlfriend at the time on the other. The women had not met previously. The patient lived to tell jokes about how he talked his way out of the situation.

Most amazingly, those traits only begin to tell the story of Rocky Aoki, the musician-turned-wrestler-turned-nightclub-impresario who made his money by founding the Benihana teppanyaki chain. If restaurant characters had their own hall of fame, a whole wing could be devoted to the Japanese immigrant who eventually died from lingering after-effects of his thrill-seeking.

Don’t recognize a name that often appeared boldfaced on newspaper gossip pages during the swinging '60s? Download this week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind, the podcast that revisits some of the people, concepts and events that shaped the restaurant business.

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