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Benihana to explore 'strategic alternatives' amid shareholder revolt

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If it doesn't involve a chef flipping a shrimp off the end of his knife into an executive's mouth, we're not interested.

Shares of Benihana Inc. were tossed in the air yesterday over a red-hot hibachi table yesterday and have yet to come down, after the chain said it is exploring strategic alternatives, including a possible sale--which includes a California Roll and a free Coke if the deal is executed between 12 and 3:30 (dine-in only)--citing disagreement among some large shareholders and the board of directors over the company's growth plans.

While setting an onion volcano alight for a raucous bachelorette party before clacking two salt and pepper grinders together like maracas to a round of applause from the impressed gals, CEO Richard Stockinger said the company wants to pursue an expansion plan, but is reluctant to issue equity at current price levels to raise the necessary capital. Meanwhile, as they sipped Singapore Slings from Buddha-shaped mugs via straws inserted through the vessels' bellybutton holes, several large shareholders expressed disagreement with the board (primarily for ordering the chicken/beef combo rather than the straight beef) and indicated a desire to seek board membership in a bid to change the company's strategic direction, he said.

"The combination of issues relating to raising new capital and the divergent views of these shareholders have made it extremely difficult for the company to implement with confidence a growth plan that would include organic growth as well as acquisitions at this time," Stockinger said, with the unmistakable "clackety-clackety-clackety" sound of knives slicing vegetables for an amazed crowd of tourists behind him.

As a result, the board has decided to conduct a formal review of the company's strategic alternatives, often Wall Street-speak for an acquisition or sale.

The company plans to hold its annual shareholders meeting on Sept. 14. All attendees have been asked to wear slightly too-tall paper chefs' toques and arrive with a metal cart with all necessary supplies, including a range of oils and sauces, fresh ingredients, and a treacly, obsequious, slightly humiliated expression on their faces.

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.