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Two Mall Restaurants Close Abruptly

Benihana, El Chico haven't been open since Valentine's Day

Hanging on the doorway of Benihana in the Ocean County Mall were red heart decorations, setting the mood for Valentine's Day. But the Japanese restaurant chain and its neighbor, El Chico, have been closed since Feb. 15.

The handmade signs on both restaurants' doors read: "Sorry, we're closed."

On Feb. 16, furniture was being loaded onto a moving truck from the restaurant, and questions were directed to the public relations firm that represents the Ocean County Mall Simon Property.

The public relations specialist for the mall however declined to comment on specific tenants and instead said questions should be directed to the tenants themselves. Calls placed to the corporate headquarters of both Benihana and El Chico chains were not immediately returned.

On President's Day, both Benihana and El Chico remained closed. Over the weekend, customers who had signed up for updates and special promotions for Benihana Toms River received an email alerting subscribers that the location is permanently closed.

"Our Toms River Benihana restaurant has closed for business. We want to thank all of our loyal guests for their support over the years," reads the email.

Though Benihana had been in business at the Ocean County Mall for several years, last spring owner Hassan Halani expanded to the right of the Japanese restaurant to build El Chico, a cantina-style Mexican restaurant.

El Chico opened Aug. 9, and Halani said at the time the restaurant would employ approximately 60-70 full-time and part-time positions. The Ocean County Mall location was the first El Chico in New Jersey, and though several operate in the southern states, there are no other locations in the tri-state area.

Halani also operates the Edison Benihana, which remains open. Existing Benihana locations elsewhere in New Jersey are at Short Hills and Pennsauken.

The Benihana and El Chico location had one liquor license serving both properties. The site is approximately 8,000 square feet in size.

The website for El Chico had no mention of the Toms River location on Monday, and Benihana's website lists the Toms River site as closed for business.

just me March 08, 2012 at 01:32 PM
For good Japanese hibachi try Umi on Fischer Blvd. It's in the strip mall behind the Burger King. For good Mexican try Tenampa in the strip mall on the southeast corner of Rt.571 and Rt 9.
knarfie May 03, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Huge portions of mediocre tasting food. Truly a "senior citizen " delight. Went there once, will never go back. It's a typical example of "you get what you pay for" Cheap food, big portions, not very good.
befit May 11, 2012 at 05:05 AM
El Tempanara across from Home Depot (toms river) has fantastic and mexican too!
Elaine September 06, 2012 at 07:23 PM
I think what would do great for Toms River and for the mall is to have The Rainforest Cafe!!!! It has great food and is very entertaining and great for kids as well as for adults!!! There are only 2 locations in Jersey Edison and Atlantic City. This is what we need is something not every town has!!!!
William Hammski February 08, 2013 at 01:39 AM
3B's can afford a liquor license because a martini is $7.00.

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