How Kobe got his name

Before we release Kobe Bryant into the reservoir of our memory, I will share one last story.

Christ Dhimitri, restaurateur (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

It was sometimes reported that Kobe was named after a Japanese restaurant, but which one, and why, was rarely printed. 

It was the early ‘70s and Japanese cuisine had barely penetrated the American consciousness. 

Contrary to what might be expected, the second Japanese restaurant did not open in cosmopolitan Center City, but rather in the staid suburbs. (The first was Benihana in Cherry Hill.) Not just the suburbs, but in a suburban hotel. This is piling improbability upon viability.

The restaurant, first called Samurai, was located in the Hilton in King of Prussia. It was struggling.

The hotel GM reached out for Christ Dhimitri, and asked him to tune up the restaurant.

The Dhimitri name may seem familiar, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

He tossed the Samurai name and rechristened the restaurant the Kobe Japanese Steak House. 

There were two noteworthy facets to the operation. First, it did not serve Kobe beef, Dhimitri says. That could not be imported from Japan because of an outbreak of hoof in mouth disease in the Land of the Rising Sun. Second, no sushi. That was way too exotic for American tastes at this time, says Dhimitri with a laugh.

The Sixers were frequent guests at the restaurant. Why?

The Sixers were using practice facilities in the Lehigh Valley and the restaurant was on the route back to Philadelphia. 

Dhimitri is a kind of raconteur who was a star high school athlete, so he gravitated toward the Sixers, and they liked him, especially.  Steve Mix, and “Jelly Bean” Bryant.

Dhimitri later launched Kanpai in New Market, an experimental urban mall next to Head House Square at 2nd and Pine. Kanpai was the first Japanese restaurant in the city limits, says Dhimitri who later went on to open the well-known Chris’ Jazz Cafe at 15th & Sansom, which still bears his name, even though he sold it a while back. (He dropped the “t” from his first name.)

Back at the Hilton, Jelly Bean Bryant apparently like the restaurant enough to lift its name and hang it on his son, who was destined to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

A final observation: Had Dhimitri not changed the restaurant’s name to Kobe, the star might have been named after the previous name — Samurai.

That might have been more fitting, given his give-no-quarter style of play.

3 thoughts on “How Kobe got his name”

  1. Thank you for that bit of trivia. It is an interesting account that can easily be added to my gold mine of useless but fascinating information.

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