Matt Mosca, front, and John Clay, co-managers of the Meridians farm in Benton, set up a greenhouse Wednesday before running wiggle wire at the farm.

Although Gov. Janet Mills has allowed restaurants in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties to begin dine-in services this Monday, Meridians Kitchen & Bar in Fairfield will remain closed for the time being due to uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

David Gulak, co-owner of Meridians, said during a telephone interview Wednesday the governor’s guidelines, announced last week, are too uncertain and strict for him to operate his eatery at this time.

“I feel like we’re getting a mixed message from the governor, saying we can open, but the standards set for restaurants, especially smaller restaurants, make it virtually impossible to operate,” Gulak said. 

For restaurants to open for dine-in services May 18, they must abide by guidelines that include:

• Spacing tables at least 6 feet apart for dine-in customers.

• Using a reservation-only system.

• Switching to laminated menus.

• Shutting down salad bars or other “common food” areas.

Mills said loosening or reimposing restrictions will depend on virus monitoring by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

David Gulak, left, and Josh Sullivan, co-owners of Meridians Kitchen & Bar in Fairfield, in June 2019. Meridians specializes in locally sourced food and is owned by the proprietors of Meridians retail shop, which has been selling beer, wine and groceries on Main Street since 2014.

Gulak said opening under Mills’ guidelines would significantly change  how his restaurant operates.

“Since we can’t sit at the bar and everyone has to be 6 feet apart, we’d only be able to seat five tables,” Gulak said.

“And if we bring all our employees back on, open up and three weeks later there’s more cases and they say you have to shut down again, that’s when its going to be really devastating — especially when talking about employees who are getting unemployment (compensation). To have them come back on the payroll and risk being shut down a few weeks later. …”

Gulak said he, his wife, Emilie Knight, and his business partner, Josh Sullivan, would continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic in Maine and make a decision on when to reopen in the coming months.

“I commend the restaurants that are brave enough to reopen right now,” Gulak said. “We’re going to keep an eye on them and see if they do well with this, then we’ll regroup. But we’re at least going to take another month.” 

John Clay, left, Matt Mosca and Kevin Paradis set up a greenhouse Wednesday before running wiggle wire at the Meridians farm in Benton. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Meridians retail store, located at 151 Main St. in Fairfield, has remained open throughout the pandemic and is offering curbside pickup.

Gulak and Sullivan opened the Meridians retail store with a third partner in June 2014. In 2019, the pair expanded the business and created the restaurant that focuses on locally grown food.

Last fall, Gulak and Knight has set their sights on another venture when they bought the Hight building in Fairfield, with the goal of turning it into a “food hub” for their businesses and local farmers.

But the renovation project for the three-story, 9,000-square-foot building at 194 Main St. has been halted due to the arrival of COVID-19.

“The building now has power, it’s cleaned out and ready for action,” Gulak Said, “but we’re going to put it on pause.”

For now, the Meridians team is focusing on its farming operation in Benton.

“It’s a mixed blessing because, of course,” Gulak said. “We’d rather be cooking food and serving it to the public, but this is the time of year we can get the grounds prepped, get the crops planted and get a jump on things.

“And when we do open, it’ll be fun to feature all the things we’re planting during this time. And now our kitchen staff is able to see the planting process and do it themselves. They’re getting the CliffsNotes version of farming. The whole soil-to-stove, farm-to-table idea has always been our mission, so this feels good.” 

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