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Benihana reports improved sales at flagship

Company supports investor's board seat bid as shareholder scrutiny grows

Benihana Inc., which has been feeling shareholder pressure over its performance, on Monday reported increased sales and traffic at its restaurants for the first four weeks of the second quarter.

Between July 20 and Aug. 16, the Miami-based company said restaurant sales increased 4.2 percent, to $25.2 million from $24.2 million in the same period a year ago.

Systemwide same-store sales increased 4.3 percent, which included a 7.3-percent jump at its flagship Benihani teppanyaki concept and declines of 1.2 percent at RA Sushi 0.6 percent at Haru.

President and chief executive Richard Stockinger credited a renewal program at the Benihana chain for the improved sales, along with such promotions as a $35 shrimp and chicken for two dinner and a $37 hibachi steak for two meal.

Benihana has been pressured this year by shareholders who are unhappy with the company’s performance, and in July said it would explore strategic alternatives, including a possible sale.

Last week, the company said it would support Coliseum Capital Management co-founder Adam Gray’s bid for a board seat next month, avoiding a potential proxy fight with the New York hedge fund. Gray is set to assume a seat held by Darwin Dornbush, who serves as chairman and is not standing for re-election.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Benihana said it would reimburse Coliseum for as much as $250,000 in costs related to that board bid and give Gray spots on its audit panel and another committee that is reviewing strategic alternatives for the company. Coliseum owns about 15 percent of Benihana’s Class A shares.

Heirs of Rocky Aoki, who founded Benihana, also are seeking seats on the board. An Aoki family trust owns about 38 percent of Benihana’s common stock. Members of the family are looking to take over the seats held by Stockinger and Lewis Jaffe.

Benihana Inc. operates 97 restaurants domestically, including 63 Benihanas, nine Haru sushi restaurants and 25 RA Sushi Bars. It also franchises 20 Benihanas in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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