Thanks to restaurant pioneer Rocky Aoki, Benihana was the first contact with Janese cuisine for many Americans of a certain age. That Teppanyaki pioneer paved the way for other Janese foods – like sushi – to eventually become as ubiquitous in the US as pasta and tacos the . Now, Rocky Aoki’s two eldest sons have opened Kuru Kuru Pa, a quick, casual chicken yakitori spot in Resorts World’s famous Foods Street Eats, with the hope of doing for yakitori as their legendary father did in the 1960s did for teppanyaki. Although the Janese-style chicken on skewers is common along the coasts of the United States, it has not yet gained the huge popularity of sushi and ramen. But if things go the way the Aoki brothers want them, that will change.
“The goal in Kuru Kuru Pa is to blow [yakitori] so that everyone knows about it, ”says Steve Aoki, almost a decade younger of the two, who has made a name for himself as a DJ with acrobatic stunts on stage. “We own our Janese heritage and make it as Janesian as possible with anime, manga and all the familiarities of Janese culture. We want the Janophiles to come and spread the gospel. It’s about the cult. We want to get to the core, and we want to break into Chicken Yakitori in America. ”
The Aoki brothers have always had a close relationship and their different personalities and skills make for a fruitful business partnership. “We have a lot of ideas together,” says Steve. “We always wanted to do it [food and beverage] Concepts together. I love building brands and food and drink are in our DNA so it just made sense. ”
As a natural creative, Steve leans towards marketing and ideas, while Kevin Aoki is more business-minded. The image and branding of Kuru Kuru Pa – which translates as “crazy” – is attributed to Steve. The menu, ingredient sources, recipe preparation, and systems are Kevin’s specialty. He sourced the juiciest Jidori chickens, sweet and smoky kiawe wood, and the flavorful tara sauce based on her mother’s recipe. “I’m different from my father,” says Kevin as he ponders his father’s larger than life personality. “I’m more of an operations type, my father was more of an entertainer. Steve has this entertaining spirit. My father loved to stand above all. When the cameras came on, it would light up. If they switched off, he fell asleep. “
As an elder, Kevin spent most of his time with her father, accompanying him everywhere – from exciting boat races to bustling kitchens – until he was 7, his dream of creating an empire. “I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant and be like my father,” says Kevin, who started at Benihana when he was 13. “I grew up thinking that I would try – especially as his firstborn son.” He started working in the kitchen and got to know all aspects of business in the front and back of the house and eventually earned his way into management.
Steve also grew up in restaurants and remembers peeling hundreds of onions every day. “After working in a kitchen, I never wanted to be in a kitchen again,” he says despite his admiration for his father. Steve was a vegetarian between the ages of 15 and 30, so he turned his back on Benihana and pursued music instead – a career that took him to international fame. However, Kevin stayed in the food industry and today has a thriving restaurant portfolio including coffee houses, sushi hotspots, teppanyaki places and even a Vietnamese restaurant called 1938 – named after the year her father was born. Although the Aokis are partners in restaurants in Miami and Honolulu, Kuru Kuru Pa is their first joint venture in Las Vegas.
Like so much in Las Vegas, the Strip restaurant was created through relationships. “Huey Lim is one of my really good friends who I’ve known for over 10 years,” says Steve, referring to the chairman and CEO of Genting Berhad, the Malaysian company that developed Resorts World. When Lim told them about the smaller space they had at Famous Foods, the siblings knew their chicken yakitori idea would fit perfectly.
“The chicken has a lot of interesting parts that are really delicious that the Janese eat,” says Kevin. “The nankotsu is the chicken’s cartilage, the skin, the thighs, the gizzard; Chicken is probably the most delicious animal to eat. Ours is free range. We’ll explore all the delicious parts of the chicken and introduce them to the Americans. ”
Steve’s personal favorite is the chicken heart skewer, while Kevin prefers the nankotsu. The cartilage has a crispy texture and contains a lot of collagen in addition to other nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. At Kuru Kuru Pa, the skewers cost between $ 7 and $ 10 each, and they also offer other Janesian products such as musubi and other entrees made from family recipes. The brothers say they have “a lot of plans in Vegas” so this restaurant seems like just the beginning.
Her father was a man on a mission whose train wouldn’t stop for anyone, including his family. “You had to jump on your train or miss the experience,” says Kevin. Now, as grown adults, Rocky’s sons have adopted a similar iron ambition.
When asked what her father would have said if he had witnessed the opening of Kuru Kuru Pa on the world famous Las Vegas Strip, the two laughed because Rocky couldn’t give a lot of praise, no matter how proud he was. “He’d say, ‘Not bad,'” Kevin says as he flips a palm of his hand from side to side in an “so-so” motion. “We know what that means.”
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