Sami Manirath (pictured at Sporting Club in St. Agatha) will open Sami's Cuisine and Cocktails in Fort Kent on Friday, Dec. 16. The new restaurant will feature a diverse menu including Asian cuisine. Credit: Courtesy of Sami Manirath

FORT KENT, Maine — It’s hard to tell who is more excited about the Asian restaurant coming to town — the townspeople eager to taste something new or the owner who fled communist Laos as a child and has embraced the American Dream.

In a community where traditional chicken stew can be found simmering on more than a few stovetops, Sami’s Cuisine and Cocktails is already creating a stir among folks eager to expand their palates.

And the Fort Kent restaurant hasn’t even opened yet.

A restaurant featuring another culture’s food in the St. John Valley, where Acadian French and American cuisine dominate, could be a big economic boost to one of Maine’s largest border towns.

Sami Manirath will open the restaurant Dec. 16, and although she works remotely as a corporate attorney for the Dallas-based law firm Sumner and Schick, Manirath said cooking is her passion.

“My love language is feeding people. I come from a culture that feeds people,” she said.

Manirath does not know her exact birthday, but knows that she was born in 1972 in Laos where she and her family lived until she was 8 years old. The family escaped an immigration camp that burned to the ground before moving near Buffalo, New York.

Marinath said her early childhood experiences helped cement her determination to take nothing in life for granted.

A new restaurant opening in Fort Kent will offer Asian dishes. Credit: Courtesy of Sami Manirath

“We escaped fire, we escaped bullets, that’s why I have the energy I have,” she said. “My father worked hard escaping a communist country to bring us to a country of opportunity. I’m all about finding opportunities. It’s a privilege to be on this Earth and you only get to do it once so whatever you want to do, go for it.”

Manirath’s positive memories of Laos are laden with images of guests she knew and some she didn’t, sharing food and drink in her family home. Her parents would feed everyone who walked into the house, she said.

“We love people. We love making people happy. I carry on those traits my parents instilled in me,” Manirath said.

Since moving to Fort Kent in February, Manirath has shared her home-cooked dishes with friends she has met here.  

She said children are especially fond of her sticky rice, which is served in little baskets and eaten by hand.

Manirath said she hopes the new restaurant will serve as an opportunity for people living in or traveling to northern Maine to experience some diverse flavors on their dinner plates.

A new restaurant opening in Fort Kent will offer Asian dishes. Credit: Courtesy of Sami Manirath

Sami’s Cuisine and Cocktails followers on social media are united in anticipation of sampling posted menu items such as Pho, Thai Chicken and Mongolian Beef.

“You’re the flavor savior our town has been waiting for,” one woman commented.

Manirath’s plans for Sami’s are characteristically ambitious.

She said all sauces will be homemade, with none of them coming from a can.

Along with Asian food, the restaurant will serve Buffalo-influenced foods such as wings and beef and cheese melts. Mondays will include Caribbean specials, such as jerk chicken and curry stew served by a guest chef.

Classic local fare such as steaks, burgers and poutines will also be available.

A mixologist will pour an ambitious array of cocktails, and Manirath said she will soon unveil a special “Route 1 cocktail menu” to symbolize the drinks available from Fort Kent’s first mile to Key West.

Musicians will occasionally be part of the dining experience at Sami’s. Local musician Charles Ouellette will sing and play guitar on opening night, and deejay Brandon Hartt is set to spin some tunes during the Holiday season.

Sami’s will open in the Main Street building that until late November housed Barry’s Kitchen, a fine dining restaurant that served American cuisine. Manirath purchased the building from Barry’s Kitchen co-owner and chef Barry Pelletier, who will stay on in the kitchen full time as head chef at Sami’s.

The new restaurant will also provide part-time employment to at least nine others.

“It’s not a fancy restaurant where you have to get dressed up, but you can get dressed up. I want to see snowmobilers, hunters, anybody who wants a good meal, good time, good drinks and just wants to have fun,” she said.