The Cameos You Probably Didn't Know The Benihana Founder Made

Most celebrity restaurateurs got their start in the food world. Momofuku progenitor David Chang studied at the French Culinary Institute while working part-time at NYC's Mercer Kitchen, Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza first worked at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant Spago, and Bay Area legend Guy Fieri started a pretzel business in grade school. But for Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki, spearheading the teppanyaki chain Benihana in 1964 came after stints as an Olympics-qualified professional wrestler, a Mister Softee driver, and an aspiring rock star (via Thrillist).  

With his unconventional background and wildly successful business (from which he had to step down after pleading guilty to insider trading), it's no wonder Rocky Aoki went on to add "nightclub owner," "men's magazine founder," and "speedboat racer" — ever heard of the Benihana Grand Prix? — to his multi-hyphenated title after the chain took off (via The Hustle).

The Manual reports that Benihana had around 100 locations at its peak, and in an interview with The New York Times, Aoki boasted that his net worth had grown to between $30 and $40 million by 2000. Considering all this, it shouldn't come as a shock that, since passing away in 2008, Aoki's legacy has extended beyond his still-popular restaurant business and into the world of Hollywood. 

Talk of the town

"This place is very expensive," Don Draper reminds his date after she complains that her hair smells like fried chicken. With a carving fork in one hand and an offset spatula in the other, a man in a bright-red chef's hat expertly tosses protein and vegetables on a griddle in front of them while other diners look on with amazement. Back in 1964, when the "Mad Men" episode "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" takes place, Benihana was a swanky novelty that a Madison Avenue ad exec would have certainly chosen as a means of impressing his quaffed companion. While an Aoki stand-in doesn't make an appearance in the episode, one can easily picture him schmoozing in a lounge behind the dining room to celebrate the restaurant's NYC debut on West 56th Street.

In 2013, three years after the "Mad Men" episode aired, a scene in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" sees a version of Aoki being arrested for dirty business. While the film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort — a New York City stockbroker who led a lavish life of crime and corruption — the scene is fictionalized, and there's no evidence that Aoki and Belfort ever knew each other. 

Rocky's son, the DJ Steve Aoki, told TMZ that the scene was indeed fabricated, but he wasn't mad about it. "They shouted out my dad," he said, "and I thought that was really cool."