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Sons Of Benihana: How The Aoki Brothers Hope To Turn Their Yakitori Joint Into The Next Family Legacy

sons-of-benihana:-how-the-aoki-brothers-hope-to-turn-their-yakitori-joint-into-the-next-family-legacy

Las Vegas Two men jump in the air From left, Steve and Kevin Aoki at the opening of Kuru Kuru Pa at Resorts World. Resorts World Las Vegas

Brothers Kevin and Steve Aoki follow in their famous father’s footsteps with the opening of Kuru Kuru Pa Yakitori at Resorts World

Thanks to the restaurant pioneer Rocky Aoki, Benihana was the first exposure to Japanese cuisine for many Americans of a certain age. The teppanyaki trailblazer paved the way for other Japanese foods — such as sushi — to eventually become as ubiquitous as pasta and tacos in the U.S. “The minute I forgot I was Japanese, success began,” Aoki, who died in 2008, once told the New York Times. Now, Rocky Aoki’s oldest two sons have opened Kuru Kuru Pa, a fast-casual chicken yakitori spot, at Resorts World’s Famous Foods Street Eats with hopes to do for yakitori as their legendary father did for teppanyaki in the 1960s. Though the Japanese-style chicken on a skewer is common in the coastal U.S., it has yet to find the wide popularity that sushi and ramen have. But if things go the way the Aoki brothers want, that is about to change.

“The goal with Kuru Kuru Pa is to blow [yakitori] up so that everyone knows about it,” says Steve Aoki, the younger of the two by almost a decade, who made his name as a DJ performing acrobatic stunts on stage. “We are owning our Japanese heritage and making it as Japanese as possible with anime, manga, and all the familiarities of Japanese culture. We want the Japanophiles to come and spread the gospel. It’s about the cult of it. We want to get to the core, and we want to break open chicken yakitori in America.”

The Aoki brothers have always had a close relationship, and their differences in personalities and skill sets make for a fruitful business partnership. “We have a lot of ideas together,” Steve says. “We’ve always wanted to do [food and beverage] concepts together. I love building brands and food and beverage is in our DNA, so it just made sense.”

As a natural creative, Steve gravitates toward marketing and ideas, whereas Kevin Aoki is more operations-minded. The image and branding of Kuru Kuru Pa — which translates to “crazy” — is attributed to Steve. The menu, sources for ingredients, recipe preparations, and systems are Kevin’s specialty. He sourced the juiciest Jidori chickens, sweet and smoky kiawe wood, and the flavorful tare sauce from their mother’s recipe. “I am different from my dad,” says Kevin as he reflects on his father’s larger-than-life persona. “I am more of an operations guy, my dad was more of an entertainer. Steve has that entertaining spirit. My dad loved being in front of everything. When the cameras came on, he would light up. When they turned off, he’d fall asleep.”

As the eldest, Kevin spent the most time with their father and went with him everywhere — from thrilling boat races to bustling kitchens — until he was 7.

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Written by Eugene