Rolling up business for Meijer

TRAVERSE CITY – Around Traverse City he's known as the "the sushi guy at Meijer." But to his employees, he is known as "The Best Sushi Chef Ever." Tucked in the back of the store, in a white chef's hat and apron, you'll find soft-spoken Jeffrey Liu, the purveyor of Dragon Rolls and Ahi tuna who's been rolling up business for the Meijer on U.S. 31 for the past year.

Meijer has been selling fresh sushi in its stores since 1999.

"We wanted to offer our customers a large variety of food selections from around the world," says Supermarket Team Leader Dale Senn. The sushi was an instant hit with customers, but since Liu arrived in 2006, sales have increased even more. Seven days a week, you can find Liu at the sushi bar and watch him create his specialties.

"By having a sushi chef right on site, we're able to provide our customers with the freshest product selection." says Senn.

Liu is originally from Taiwan, where he learned the art of preparing sushi from his parents. Many people think of sushi as a Japanese cuisine, but according to Lui, the combination of rice and fresh fish has its roots in China. The Japanese developed their own variations on what they learned from the Chinese, and eventually introduced sushi to Taiwan. "Taiwan used to be ruled by Japan," says Liu, "So we share a lot of the same heritage and culture."

The Lui family's sushi tradition continues today. Lui's sister is the head sushi chef at the Meijer in Okemos, in the Lansing area. His parents, who recently retired, also worked at the same supermarket. But Liu isn't looking to move anytime soon. "I like Traverse City," he says, "The customers are nice; it is my home now."

That's good, because Liu has developed quite a following.

"He creates excellent, fresh sushi," says customer Kari Speckman of Maple City. "By having the chef right there, it's like an authentic Asian experience."

Eric Nuffer of Ellsworth is a regular customer who has been buying sushi from Meijer for the past three years, "It's the best deal around for sushi, plus the selection is excellent."

Liu is employed by Japanese Food Express, based in Houston, Texas. The company manages sushi bars in supermarkets, hospitals, casinos, and universities, including several Meijer locations.

The most popular selection among TC customers? The Brown Rice California Roll.

The sushi shopping trip wouldn't be complete without a traditional bow that Jeffrey Liu gives each and every customer. BN