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REV: JULY 20, 2004

W. EARL SASSER

Benihana of Tokyo
Some restaurateurs like myself have more fun than others, says Hiroaki (Rocky) Aoki, youthful president of Benihana of Tokyo. Between 1964, when he opened his first location, and 1972 he had gone from deficit net worth to being president of a chain of 15 restaurants that grossed over $12 million per year.

Background
By 1972 Benihana was basically a steakhouse with a difference--the food was cooked in front of the customer by Japanese chefs, and the decor was that of an authentically detailed Japanese country inn. From a humble 40-seat unit opened in midtown Manhattan in 1964, Benihana had grown to a chain of 15 units across the country. Nine were company-owned locations: New York (3); San
Francisco; Chicago; Encino and Marina del Rey, California; Portland, Oregon; and Honolulu. Five were franchised: Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Beverly Hills, Seattle, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The last unit, Las Vegas, was operated as a joint venture with Hilton Hotels Corporation. Rocky, who was a former Olympic wrestler, described his success as follows:
In 1959, I came to the United States on a tour with my university wrestling team. I was 20 at the time. When I reached New York, it was love at first sight! I was convinced that there were more opportunities for me in America than Japan. I decided to enroll in the School of
Restaurant Management at City College basically because I knew that in the restaurant business I’d never go hungry. I earned money those early years by washing dishes, driving an ice cream truck, and acting as a tour guide. Most importantly, I spent three years making a systematic analysis of the U.S. restaurant market. What I discovered was that Americans enjoyed eating in exotic surroundings but were deeply mistrustful of exotic foods. I also discovered that people very much enjoy watching their food being prepared. So I took $10,000
I had saved by 1963 and borrowed $20,000 more to open my first unit on the West Side and tried to apply all that I had learned.
The origins of Benihana of Tokyo actually date back to 1935. That was when Yunosuke Aoki
(Rocky’s father) opened the first of his chain of restaurants in Japan. He called it Benihana, after the small red flower that grew wild near the front door of the restaurant.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Professor W. Earl Sasser and Research Associate John Klug prepared this case. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion.
Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. This case was made possible by the cooperation of the Benihana Corporation and Russ Carpenter, Executive Editor of the magazine Institutions/Volume
Feeding.
Copyright © 1972 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School.

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Benihana of Tokyo

The elder Aoki (Papasan), like his son who was to follow in the family tradition, was a practical and resourceful restaurateur. In 1958, concerned about rising costs and increased competition, he first incorporated the hibachi table concept into his operations. Rocky borrowed this method of cooking from his father and commented as follows:
One of the things I learned in my analysis was that the number one problem of the restaurant industry in the United States is the availability and cost of labor. By eliminating the need for a conventional kitchen with the hibachi table arrangement, I can give an unusual amount of attentive service and still keep labor cost to 10%-12% of gross sales (food and beverage) depending on whether a unit is at full volume. In addition, I was able to significantly increase the proportion of floor area devoted to productive dining space. Only about 22% of the total space of a unit is back of the house, including preparation areas, dry and refrigerated storage, employee dressing rooms, and office space. Normally a restaurant requires 30% of its total space as back of the house. [See Exhibit 1 for operating statistics for a typical service restaurant.]
The other thing I discovered is that food storage and wastage contribute significantly to the overhead of the typical restaurant. By reducing the menu to only three simple Middle
American entrees: steak, chicken, and shrimp. I have virtually no waste and can cut food costs to between 30% and 35% of food sales depending on the price of meat.
Finally, I insist on historical authenticity. The walls, ceilings, beams, artifacts, and decorative lights of a Benihana are all from Japan. The building materials are gathered from old houses there, carefully disassembled, and shipped in pieces to the United States where they are reassembled by one of my father’s two crews of Japanese carpenters.
Rocky’s first unit on the West Side was such a success that it paid for itself in six months. He then built, in 1966, a second unit three blocks away on the East Side simply to cater to the overflow of the
Benihana West. The Benihana East quickly developed a separate clientele and prospered. In 1967,
Barron Hilton, who had eaten at a Benihana, approached Rocky concerning the possibility of locating a unit in the Marina Towers in Chicago. Rocky flew to Chicago, rented a car, and while driving to meet Hilton saw a vacant site. He immediately stopped, called the owner, and signed a lease the next day. Needless to say, a Benihana didn’t go into the Marina Towers.
The number three unit in Chicago had proved to be the company’s largest money-maker. It was an instant success and grossed approximately $1.3 million per year. The food and beverage split was
70/30 and management was able to keep expense percentages at relatively low levels: food (30%), labor (10%), advertising (10%), management (4%), and rent (5%).
The fourth unit was in San Francisco and the fifth was a joint venture in Las Vegas in 1969. By this time, literally hundreds of people were clamoring for franchises. Rocky sold a total of six until he decided in 1970 that it would be much more to his advantage to own his units rather than franchise them. Following are the franchises that were granted: Puerto Rico (not successful due to economic turndown), Harrisburg, Fort Lauderdale, Portland (company bought unit back), Seattle, Beverly Hills,
Boston.
The decision to stop franchising was made because of a number of problems. First, the franchises were bought by investors, none of whom had any restaurant experience. Second, it was difficult for the American investor to relate to a predominantly native Japanese staff. Finally, control was considerably more difficult to maintain with a franchisee than a company employee manager.
During the period to 1970 several groups had attempted to imitate the Benihana success. One even included a group with intimate knowledge of the Benihana operation who set up in close proximity
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to a Benihana unit. They, however, folded within the year. Bolstered by the confidence that the
Benihana success could not be easily replicated, management felt that one of the classic pressures to franchise, in order to expand extremely rapidly to preempt competitors, was eliminated.
The amount of space devoted to the bar/lounge/holding area accurately indicated when the unit was built. When Rocky opened his first unit, he saw the business as primarily food-service sales.
The Benihana West had a tiny bar that seated about eight and had no lounge area. Rocky quickly learned that this amount of bar space was insufficient, and at the second unit, Benihana East, he doubled the size of the bar/lounge area. But since the whole unit was larger, the ratio of space was not too different. A typical floor plan is included as Exhibit 2.
His third Manhattan operation, called Benihana Palace, opened in 1970. Here, the bar/lounge area was enormous, even in ratio to size. Figures from 1972 bear out the wisdom of the growth. At
West, beverage sales represented about 18% of total sales. At East, they ran 20%-22%. And at the
Palace, they ran a handsome 30%-33% of total sales. The beverage cost averaged 20% of beverage sales. The heart of the show biz was in the dining area. The teppanyaki table consisted of a gas-fired steel griddle plate, with a 9½” wooden ledge bordering it to hold the customers’ plates and silverware. Above every table was an exhaust hood to remove cooking steam and odors and much of the heat from the griddle. Each table accommodated eight diners, with service being provided by a chef and a waitress; each such team handled two regular tables.
The four food items—steak, filet mignon, chicken, and shrimp—could either be had as single entree items or in combinations. A full dinner had three, with the shrimp as appetizer. The accompaniments were unvaried: bean sprouts, zucchini, fresh mushrooms, onions, and rice.
Normally, a customer could come in, be seated, have dinner, and be on his or her way out in 45 minutes, if need be, excluding the time the patron had spent in the bar. The average turnover at the teppanyaki table was an hour, and up to an hour and a half in slow periods. Typically, after a group of eight had been seated, the waitress would take the order and bring whatever soup, salad, and beverages were requested, after which the chef would appear, wheeling his cart with the food items to the table, and the show would begin.
The average check, including food and beverage, ran about $6 at lunch, about $10 at dinner.
These figures included one drink (average price $1.50) at lunch, an average of one-plus at dinner.
The big purchase was meat. Only U.S.D.A. Prime Grade, tightly specified tenderloin and boneless strip loins were used. The steaks were further trimmed in house. Only a bit of fat at the tail was left, which was for effect only. When the chef began cooking the meat, he dramatically trimmed this part off and pushed it aside before cubing the remaining meat.
The hours of operation for the 15 units varied according to local requirements. All were open for lunch and dinner, though not necessarily every day for each. Lunch business was important; overall it accounted for about 30%-40% of the total dollar volume despite a significantly lower check average.
Essentially the same menu items were served for both meals; the lower menu price average at lunch reflected smaller portions and fewer combinations.

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Benihana of Tokyo

Site Selection
Because of the importance of lunchtime business, Benihana had one basic criterion for site selection--high traffic. Management wanted to be sure that a lot of people were nearby or going by both at lunch and at dinner. Rent normally ran 5%-7% of sales for 5,000-6,000 square feet of floor space. Most units were located in a predominantly business district, though some had easy access to residential areas. Shopping center locations were considered, but had not been accepted by 1972.

Training
Because the chefs were considered by Benihana to be a key to its success, all of them were highly trained. All were young, single, native Japanese and all were certified, which meant that they had completed a three-year formal apprenticeship. They were then given a three- to six-month course in
Japan in the English language and American manners as well as the Benihana form of cooking, which was mostly showmanship. The chefs were brought to the United States under a trade treaty agreement. Training chefs within the United States was also a continuous process. In addition to the competition among the chefs to perfect their art in hopes of becoming the chief chef, there was also a traveling chef who inspected each unit periodically and was involved in the grand opening of new units. While Benihana found it relatively difficult to attract chefs and other personnel from Japan due to the general level of prosperity there as well as competition from other restaurants bidding for their talents, once in the United States they were generally not anxious to leave. This was due to several factors. One was the rapidity with which they could rise in the American Benihana operation versus the rather rigid hierarchy based on class, age, and education they would face in Japan. A second and major factor was the paternal attitude Benihana took toward all its employees. While personnel were well paid in a tangible sense, a large part of the compensation was intangible, based on job security and a total commitment of Benihana to the well-being of its employees. As a result, turnover of personnel within the United States was very low, although most did eventually return to Japan. To fully appreciate the Benihana success, the unique combination of Japanese paternalism in an
American setting had to be appreciated.

Organization and Control
Each restaurant carried a simple management structure. It had a manager (salary of
$15,000/year), an assistant manager ($12,000/year), and two or three front men ($9,000/year), who might be likened to maitre d’s. These front men were really potential managers in training. All managers reported to the manager of operations Allen Saito who, in turn, reported to Bill Susha, vice president in charge of operations and business development (see Exhibit 3).
Susha came to Benihana in 1971, following food and beverage experience with Hilton, Loew’s, and the Flagship Hotel Division of American Airlines. He described his job as follows:
I see management growth as a priority objective. My first step was to establish some sort of control system by introducing sales goals and budgets. At the most recent manager workshop meeting in New York—with managers from all over the country—I asked each to project his sales goal on an annual basis, then break it out by month, then by week, then by day. After I
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reached agreement with a manager on the individual quota figures, I instituted a bonus plan.
Any unit that exceeded its quota on any basis—daily, weekly, monthly, yearly—will get a proportionate bonus, which will be prorated across the entire staff of the unit. I’ve also built up an accounting staff and controller to monitor our costs. It’s been a slow but steady process.
We have to be very careful to balance our need for control with the amount of overhead we can stand. We may be able to justify extra front men standing around in the units if they improve service and bring in more business. At the corporate level, however, we have to be very careful. In fact, at present the company is essentially being run by three people--Rocky, myself, and Allen Saito.

Advertising Policy
Rocky considered that a vitally important factor in Benihana’s success was a substantial investment in creative advertising and public relations. The company invested 8%-10% of its gross sales on reaching the public. Glen Simoes, the director of advertising and public relations, summed it up: We deliberately try to be different and original in our advertising approach. We never place advertisements on the entertainment pages of newspapers on the theory that they would be lost among the countless other restaurant advertisements.
We have a visual product to sell. Therefore, Benihana utilizes outstanding visuals in its ads.
The accompanying copy is contemporary, sometimes offbeat.
A recent full-page advertisement which appeared in the New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, and New York
Magazine did not contain the word restaurant. We also conduct a considerable amount of market research to be sure we know who our customers really are.
Exhibit 4 shows the results of one market research survey. Exhibit 5 is a further discussion of
Benihana advertising policy. Exhibits 6, 7, 8, and 9 are examples of Benihana advertising copy.

Future Expansion
Bill Susha summed up the problems of the future as he saw them:
I think the biggest problem facing us now is how to expand. We tried franchising and decided to discontinue the program for several reasons. Most of our franchisees were businessmen looking for investment opportunities who did not really know and understand the restaurant business—this was a problem. The Japanese staff we provided were our people and we have obligations to them that the franchisee could not or would not honor which at the time made us unhappy. The uniqueness of our operation in the hands of novices made control more difficult. Finally, we found it more profitable to own and operate the restaurants ourselves. Presently, we are limited to opening only five units a year, because that is as fast as the two crews of Japanese carpenters we have can work. We are facing a decision and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of going into hotels with our type of restaurant. We are presently in two Hilton Hotels (Las Vegas and Honolulu) and have recently signed an agreement with Canadian Pacific Hotels. What we have done in these deals is to put teeth in the agreements, so that we are not at the mercy of the hotel company’s management.
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Benihana of Tokyo

Further, one of our biggest constraints is staff. Each unit requires approximately 30 people who are all Oriental. Six to eight of them are highly trained chefs with a similar number of waitresses; there are four to five managers and front men, two to three people in the bar, and the remainder are bus staff and dishwashers.
Finally, there is the cost factor. Each new unit costs us a minimum of $300,000. My feeling is that we should confine ourselves to the major cities like Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, etc., in the near future. Then we can use all these units to expand into the suburbs.
We’ve been highly tempted to try to grow too fast without really considering the full implications of the move. One example was the franchise thing, but we found it unsatisfactory. Another example is that a large international banking organization offered to make a major investment in us that would have allowed us to grow at a terrific rate. But when we looked at the amount of control and autonomy we’d have to give up, it just wasn’t worth it, at least in my mind.
Another thing I’m considering is whether it’s worth it to import from Japan every item used on construction to make a Benihana 100% authentic. Does an American really appreciate it and is it worth the cost? We could use material available here and achieve substantially the same effect. Also, is it worth it to use Japanese carpenters and pay union carpenters to sit and watch? All these things could reduce our costs tremendously and allow us to expand much faster. Rocky described his perception of where the firm should go:
I see three principal areas for growth: the United States, overseas, and Japan.
In the United States we need to expand into the primary marketing areas Bill talked about that do not have a Benihana. But I think through our franchises we also learned that secondary markets such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon, also have potential. While their volume potential obviously will not match that of a primary market, these smaller units offer fewer headaches and generate nice profits. Secondary markets being considered include
Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
The third principal area I see for growth is in suburbia. No sites have yet been set, but I think it holds a great potential. A fourth growth area, not given the importance of the others, is further penetration into existing markets. Saturation is not a problem as illustrated by the fact that New York and greater Los Angeles have three units each, all doing well.
We are also considering someday going public. In the meantime, we are moving into joint ventures in Mexico and overseas. Each joint venture is unique in itself. We negotiate each unit on the basis that will be most advantageous to the parties concerned, taking into account the contributions of each party in the form of services and cash. Once this is established, we agree on a formula for profits and away we go.
Four deals have not been consummated. Three are joint ventures out of the country. An agreement has already been reached to open a Benihana in the Royal York Hotel, Toronto,
Canada. This will provide the vanguard for a march across Canada with units in or outside
Canadian Pacific Hotels.
Second is a signed agreement for a new unit in Mexico City. From here, negotiations are underway on a new hotel to be built in Acapulco. Benihana stands ready to build and operate

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a unit in the hotel or, if possible, to take over management of the entire hotel. These units would form a base for expansion throughout Mexico.
The third extraterritorial arrangement was recently signed with David Paradine, Ltd., a
British firm of investors headed by TV personality David Frost. Again, this is a joint venture with the Paradine group to supply technical assistance, public relations, advertising, and financing, and Benihana the management and know-how. This venture hopes ultimately to have Benihana restaurants, not only throughout Great Britain, but also across the Continent.
Rocky also had a number of diversification plans:
We have entered into an agreement with a firm that is researching and contacting large food processors in an effort to interest them in producing a line of Japanese food products under the Benihana label for retail sale. There has been a great deal of interest and we are close to concluding a deal.
I worry a lot. Right now we cater to a middle-income audience, not the younger generation. That makes a difference. We charge more, serve better quality, have a better atmosphere, and more service. But we are in the planning stages for operations with appeal to the younger generation.
For instance, there is no Japanese quick-service operation in this country. I think we should go into a combination Chinese-Japanese operation like this. The unit would also feature a dynamic cooking show exposed to the customers. Our initial projections show margins comparable to our present margins with Benihana of Tokyo. I see a check of about 99¢. We are negotiating with an oil company to put small units in gas stations. They could be located anywhere--on turnpikes or in the Bronx. I think we should do this very soon. We might call it the Orient Express. I think I will get a small store in Manhattan and try it out. This is the best kind of market research in the United States. Market research works in other countries, but I don’t believe in it here. We are also negotiating for a site on Guam and to take over a chain of beer halls in Japan.
The restaurant business is not my only business. I went into producing; I had two unsuccessful Broadway shows. The experience was very expensive, but I learned a great deal and learned it very fast. It’s all up to the critics there. In the restaurant business, the critics don’t write much about you if you’re bad; but even if they do they can’t kill you. On
Broadway they can. They did.
My philosophy of the restaurant business is simply to make people happy. We do it many ways at Benihana. As we start different types of operations, we will try to do it in other ways.
Russ Carpenter, a consultant and editor for Institutions/Volume Feeding magazine, summed up his perceptions as follows:
I basically see two main problems. What is Benihana really selling? Is it food, atmosphere, hospitality, a watering hole or what? Is having entertainment in the lounge consistent with the overall image? All the advertising emphasizes the chef and the food, but is that really what the public comes for? I don’t know. I’m only raising the questions. The other thing is how do you hedge your bets? Is Benihana really on the forefront of a trend of the future with their limited menu, cooking in front of you, and Oriental atmosphere, or is it just a fad? This relates to whether the firm should emphasize restaurant operations only.

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Exhibit 1

Benihana of Tokyo

Operating Statistics for a Typical Service Restaurant
Ranges (%)

Sales
Food
Beverage
Total Sales

70.0–80.0
20.0–30.0
100.0

Cost of sales
Food cost (% of food sales)
Beverage cost (% of beverage sales)

38.0–48.0
25.0–30.0

Cost of total sales

35.0–45.0

Gross profit

55.0–65.0

Operating expenses
Controllable expense
Payroll
Employee benefits
Employee meals
Laundry, linen, uniforms
Replacements
Supplies (guest)
Menus and printing
Miscellaneous contract expense (cleaning, garbage, extermination, equipment rental)
Music and entertainment (where applicable)
Advertising and promotion
Utilities
Management salary
Administration expense (including legal and accounting)
Repairs and maintenance
Occupation expense
Rent
Taxes (real estate and personal property)
Insurance
Interest
Depreciation
Franchise royalties (where applicable)
Total operating expenses
Net profit before income tax

30.0–35.0
3.0–5.0
1.0–2.0
1.5–2.0
0.5–1.0
1.0–1.5
0.25–0.5
1.0–2.0
0.5–1.0
0.75–2.0
1.0–2.0
2.0–6.0
0.75–2.0
1.0–2.0

4.5–9.0
0.5–1.5
0.75–1.0
0.3–1.0
2.0–4.0
3.0–6.0
55.0–65.0
0.5–9.0

Source: Bank of America, Small Business Reporter, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1968.

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Benihana of Tokyo

Exhibit 2

673-057

Floor Plan

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Benihana of Tokyo

Exhibit 2 (continued)

Source:

Floor Plan (continued)

Benihana Corporation.

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Benihana of Tokyo

Exhibit 3

673-057

Organization Chart
Papasan

Rocky

V.P. Operations
(Bill Susha)
(American)

Franchise Units

Manager–Operations
(Allen Saito)
(Japanese)
Exhibit 4
Controller
(American)

Advertising/ P.R.
(Glen Simoes)
(American)
Company Owned
Units

Restaurant
Manager
(Japanese)

Chief Chef
(Japanese)

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Exhibit 4

Benihana of Tokyo

What the Customers Think

Every foodservice operator thinks he knows why customers come to his operation. Benihana, which has served millions of customers over the years, a high percentage of which were repeat business, thought it knew.
But when he joined as V-P of operations, Chad Conrad wanted to be sure the hallowed presumptions were true.
He devised a questionnaire, and arranged that it be handed to departing customers. A remarkable number took the time to fill out and return the form.
Are you from out-of-town?
Yes
38.6%
No
61.4
Here on:
Business
38.7%
Pleasure
61.3
Do you live in the area?
Live
16.0%
Work
35.9
Both
45.1
Have you been to a Benihana in another city?
Yes
22.9%
No
77.3
How did you learn of us?
Newspaper
4.0%
Magazine
6.9
Radio
4.6
Recommended
67.0
TV show
1.0
Walk by
5.0
Other
11.5
Is this your first visit?
Yes
34.3%
No
65.7
What persuaded you to come?
Good food
46.7%
Service
8.2
Preparation
13.1
Atmosphere
13.3
Recommendation
5.7
Other
13.1
Food was:
Satisfactory
2.0%
Good
20.1
Excellent
77.9
Portions were:
Satisfactory
21.8%
Good
33.0
Excellent
45.4
Service was:
Satisfactory
9.8%
Good
21.6
Excellent
71.3

The percentage figures shown here are averages of six stores. While there were many variations from unit to unit, the general thrust was constant, so the six-store figures have been averaged to save space.
The six units included the three in New York City, plus
Chicago, Encino, Cal., and Portland, Or. The questions and averages are as follows:

Atmosphere is:
Satisfactory
6.3%
Good
29.9
Excellent
63.2
Would you consider yourself a lunch or dinner customer?
Lunch
17.3%
Dinner
59.0
Both
23.7
Which aspect of our restaurant would you highlight?
Food
38.2%
Atmosphere
13.0
Preparation
24.6
Service
16.3
Different
2.2
Friendly
2.4
Other
3.3
How frequently do you come to Benihana
Once a week or more
12.1%
Once a month or more
32.5
Once a year or more
55.6
Age:
10-20
4.2%
21-30
28.3
31-40
32.0
41-50
21.4
51-60
10.1
60 and over
4.0
Sex:
Male
71.4%
Female
28.6
Income:
$ 7,500-$10,000
16.8%
10,000- 15,000
14.2
15,000- 20,000
17.3
20,000- 25,000
15.0
25,000- 40,000
17.9
40,000 and over
18.7
Occupation:
Managerial
23.0%
Professional
26.6
White collar
36.9
Student
6.9
Housewife
5.0

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Benihana of Tokyo

Exhibit 5

673-057

Summary of Benihana's Marketing Philosophy

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Exhibit 6

Benihana of Tokyo

Benihana of Tokyo Advertisement

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Benihana of Tokyo

Exhibit 7

673-057

Benihana of Tokyo Advertisement

15
This document is authorized for use only by Qiao Yang in FUNCTIONS OF THE CAPITALIST ENTERPRISE- Spring 2014-1 taught by Dr. William J. Oliver, at Brandeis University from August
2014 to February 2015.

For the exclusive use of Q. Yang, 2014.
673-057

Exhibit 8

Benihana of Tokyo

Benihana of Tokyo Advertisement

16
This document is authorized for use only by Qiao Yang in FUNCTIONS OF THE CAPITALIST ENTERPRISE- Spring 2014-1 taught by Dr. William J. Oliver, at Brandeis University from August
2014 to February 2015.

For the exclusive use of Q. Yang, 2014.
Benihana of Tokyo

Exhibit 9

673-057

Benihana of Tokyo Advertisement

17
This document is authorized for use only by Qiao Yang in FUNCTIONS OF THE CAPITALIST ENTERPRISE- Spring 2014-1 taught by Dr. William J. Oliver, at Brandeis University from August
2014 to February 2015.

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