by Angela Jameson
Benihana, the international Japanese-US restaurant chain, has finally acquired a site in Mayfair for its third London restaurant.
Benihana, founded in the USA in 1965 by entrepreneur Rocky Aoki, has long been looking to establish a flagship operation from which it can expand into Europe.
The site is in the Italian Trade Centre, on the corner of Sackville Street and Piccadilly. It will become the European flagship restaurant and showcase for its "food-theatre" style of cooking in front of the customer.
Since opening its first restaurant at Swiss Cottage in 1986, Benihana's progress in the UK has suffered a series of setbacks.
Financial problems in the late 1980s put European expansion on hold until 1992.
It then created a partnership with Japanese industrialist Ono to fund growth. But it ran into more problems when a deal to take over the former BCCI premises on Piccadilly collapsed after seven months of negotiation.
Its second London restaurant eventually opened on the King's Road in 1992. The acquisition of the latest property, its 91st worldwide, has taken a further two years of negotiation through agent Berkeley Simmons.
Work on converting the site into a 190-seat restaurant began last week and opening is scheduled for mid-August. Costs are estimated at between £1m and £1.5m.
Benihana has previously positioned itself at the upper end of the UK market. The Benihana Mayfair, however, will aim at a broader customer base, serving snacks as well as full meals. Average spend per head is estimated at £20 to £25 for dinner and £10 to £15 for lunch.
Jeremy Simmons, of Berkeley Simmons, said Benihana was planning to expand into Germany once the Mayfair restaurant was open.
It is looking for suitable properties in Berlin, Munich and other major cities.