After Rocky came to the United States, he saved $10,000 selling ice cream from his ice cream truck in Harlem, various part-time jobs, and $10,000 loan from the bank.In May 1964, with $20,000 start-up money, Rocky decided to open his first Benihana restaurant with 4 teppanyaki tables in New York City.
Back in the Edo period of Japan, there was no refrigeration. Fish were caught daily and put on ice to keep fresh and served raw. Customers would go to the sushi counter and interact with the chef asking “What special fish do you have today “? The Sushi Chef would respond, “I have fresh Maguro.., would you like to try some”? This idea of customer interaction with the chef was incorporated into the Benihana Concept. Rocky’s idea was to create a concept that combined aspects from Edo period Sushi (500 years old) with Okonomiyaki (home cooking). Okonomiyaki is very common in Japanese households where families would gather around a small steel grill and cook various types of Japanese Pancakes. Rocky decided to make a large teppanyaki grill, much larger than the Okonomiyaki grill. His father came to visit him and saw no customers. His father said “Why don’t you have the chef perform and interact with customers.” This concept was the first Teppanyaki style dining restaurant in the United States and he introduced many main Japanese ingredients, such as soy sauce, to the American people.