Why The Benihana Founder Sued His Own Kids

While Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki was best known as the multimillionaire founder of Benihana, the popular chain of Japanese restaurants with over 100 locations worldwide, his daredevil exploits and wild personal life often threatened to overshadow his business success. A former AAAU champion wrestler, he was a daring powerboat racer, a shameless self-promoter, and a playboy. He operated a nightclub and ran a racy gentleman's magazine, both called Genesis, and was married three times (via The Hustle).

Aoki married his third wife, Keiko Ono, in 2002, but his children did not approve of the union. Aoki's children believed Ono was manipulating Aoki and trying to steal their inheritance. "Basically, they think my wife is, like, gold digger," he said in a 2006 New York Magazine interview, adding that his daughter Grace even believed Ono would try to kill him for his money. 

Immediately following the marriage, the children tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Ono to sign a post-nuptial agreement. When that failed, they convinced Aoki to sign an amendment securing their control over the Benihana trust while ensuring Ono would receive nothing in the event of Aoki's death, per The Hustle.

Aoki accused his children of trying to take control of Benihana

However, Aoki soon became angry with the agreement, and in 2006, he sued four of his seven children over the dispute around the Benihana fortune. Naming his eldest children, Kevin, Grace, Echo, and Kyle, in the suit, he accused them of trying to "wrest control" of the company away from him. "I want to help my kids, but I want my children to crawl, to walk, then run on their own. Then I help them. But they can't even crawl. They just collect money and do nothing. What else they want? Can't wait till I'm dead?" he told New York. Calling them "disloyal and incompetent," Aoki disinherited the four children named in the suit and amended his will to give Ono almost complete control of his estate.

However, the lawsuit was never settled, and contentious legal battles continued between Ono and Aoki's children following his death in 2008, per the Daily Mail. In 2014, Aoki's heirs eventually regained legal control of their father's estate, but Ono, as a trustee, still retained significant control over their 50 million dollar inheritance.