Chef Sammi Loo's Ootori Sushi, Mezza 9 bring international flavors to Rochester

two people pose in front of theatre
MPR News Host Tom Crann and Chef Sammi Loo at The Chateau Theatre on Friday in Rochester.
Courtesy of Benazir Kerezoudis

Appetites' summer road trip came to an end with its final stop in Rochester on June 16. MPR News host Tom Crann spoke with Minnesota restaurateur and food entrepreneur Sammi Loo, who helped bring sushi to Med City 15 years ago.

She owns Ootori Sushi, a Japanese restaurant; a Parisian café called Mezza 9; and has a Korean restaurant and a speakeasy in the works, too.

“There is a lot of diversity right here and it is an opportunity to open different types of restaurants, especially Asian cuisine,“ Loo said.

Loo grew up in Malaysia, where she said she watched American TV shows and they made her excited to move to the U.S. in part because she thought Rochester was going to be like California.

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“I came here during summertime, beautiful weather and stuff. The first time I saw the snow, I was very happy, but then after the second year, I didn't like it anymore because I needed to shovel the snow and all that,” she said. She will be celebrating her 19th anniversary in Rochester in August.

She said she initially thought she was done creating new restaurants, but recently noticed “downtown is getting not as vibrant or busy as he used to be. So then I told my son, maybe I should bring something to downtown so that it can make downtown better again.”

She decided to start working on a Korean restaurant. “I love Korean food and I watch a lot of Korean TV. But then I also have an amazing consultant helping me.“

Loo said she has owned and run seven restaurants. However, the journey to success was not easy. “I missed a lot of my children growing up,“ she said.

But her passion for the food business kept her going and providing for her family.

“Opening a restaurant was the right choice because I could give them that opportunity to give them a better life,” she said.

Click play on the audio player above to listen to the full conversation and see Loo’s recipe below.

a sushi roll is held by chopsticks
Chef Sammi Loo's “Princess Kimono” is a vegan sushi, made with mango, sweet melon, fried carrots and avocado.
Courtesy of Benazir Kerezoudis

Princess Kimono

Loo helped introduce Med City to sushi and she said now she notices more vegetarian and vegan customers, so she offers more options for them. Loo brought samples of one of her staple vegan rolls called Princess Kimono.

Here are the ingredients in the vegan roll, which is also free of gluten and MSG.

  • Sushi rice

  • Fresh avocado

  • Sliced cucumber

  • Sweet melon

  • Fried carrot

  • Fresh mango

  • Mango sauce

Editor’s note: This episode is from the MPR Connects “Appetites in Greater Minnesota” event held on June 16. The episode aired on All Things Considered on June 21.