Bill and Amy Lay, the husband-wife team behind both outposts of the beloved Italian restaurant La Trattoria, as well as Catered Affairs, have big plans for Benihana. On September 21 of 2018, they also picked up the neighboring restaurant to La Trattoria Oceanside, Benihana and also purchased the 22,000 square foot building that houses the two restaurants.
“The first thing we did was literally break down the ramp between the two restaurants,” said Bill Lay. “I pulled a Reagan: Tear down that wall!”
The fun, fanfare and great food of Benihana has long made it a local favorite, and the Lays plan to preserve that, while updating it with a vision for the future.
“We are very excited about our new bar build-out,” said Bill Lay, “which hopefully will be done by the end of the year.” They plan to move the bar to the front and center of the restaurant, in order to take full advantage of the beautiful water view.
“The best view in the house is that of the sushi chef,” Bill laughs, “and we really want to show off that view to guests.”
Benihana will also have a new happy hour, food and drink specials, and an earlier opening time, 4 p.m. They’ve already spiced up the cocktail menu with punch bowl drinks for sharing, like the “Blue Ocean,” as well as the top-shelf new Beni-tini, made with Grey Goose and fresh hibiscus tea.
“We’re going to open up at 4 p.m. every day, and it will be for happy hour drinks and sushi,” said Amy Lay. They are also going to have a signature Teppanyaki chef behind the sushi bar, “so that you’ll be watching the same show you would get at the table at the bar.” While new items may pop up on the menu, the Lays are maintaining the familiar, flavorful Tappanyaki style food.
In a place known for its showmanship, they are also embracing the fun … and taking it a step further. That’s right: they’re getting a giant gong.
“We are definitely getting a big, 6- to 8-foot gong. We hope to call last call and then hit the gong,” Bill jokes. The Lays are toying with names for the new bar, like “Bonsai Bar” or “Koi.”
Reinvigorating the restaurant, the Lays had a booth at Taste of Key West on April 15; they are also taking part in the Chamber of Commerce golf tournament.
“There will be Benihana fried rice at one of the holes!” said Amy. “Catered Affairs and La Trat are very involved and excited to get Benihana back into the community more, and the staff is on board and super excited.”
“With our growth, we look forward to creating new jobs,” said Bill. “It has always been a personal business goal of mine to create jobs for people, and while growth is important, with growth comes opportunity.”
It will be exciting to see a favorite restaurant undergo a transformation. Kampai!