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Business Deals

Flashy teppanyaki chain Benihana sold to Thailand's Minor

Hotel group pays $12m for restaurants famous for chef performances

Benihana was founded in 1960s New York City, where it still has this location on West 56 Street. (Photo by Fernando Alves)

BANGKOK -- Thai group Minor International said Monday it has paid $12 million for a 75% stake in London-based Benihana Holdings, known for a Japan-inspired chain of grill restaurants, as part of the hotel and restaurant operator's effort to expand its global reach.

The first Benihana restaurant opened in 1964 in New York City under Rocky Aoki, a Japanese-born wrestler-turned-entrepreneur.

The teppanyaki grill restaurants won fans with flamboyant cooking shows put on by chefs, such as the trademark onion volcano trick, mirroring the showmanship of its founder, who died in 2008.  Benihana Holdings has 19 locations across 12 countries, including Thailand, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Minor will manage Benihana restaurants in Asia, excluding Japan, the Middle East, Europe and Africa as well as in Australia, Canada and Mexico.

Founded by an American-born businessman who became one of Thailand's richest people, Minor operates such restaurant chains as Swensen's, Sizzler, Dairy Queen and Burger King. Its hotel and retail portfolio includes the Tivoli, Marriott, Gap and Banana Republic brands.

Rocky Aoki in 1977 in New York, where he founded the Benihana chain.   © AP

"Minor has almost 30 years of proven success operating Benihana-franchised restaurants in Thailand," said Keiko Ono Aoki, the founder's widow and a Benihana board member, referring to the three locations that Minor currently runs in the country.

"We are confident that the Minor Food team can replicate the same success in other markets worldwide," she said.

Minor's Singaporean subsidiary acquired the stake from RHA Testamentary Trust, which will retain the remaining 25%.

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