Rick Savage makes doughnuts in the kitchen of his restaurant, Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, on May 1 to prepare for reopening to the public in defiance of the state order. The restaurant was again closed by the state this month after inspectors cited Savage for non-compliance of state COVID-19 mandates. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

SOUTH PARIS — A judge has again ordered the closure of a Bethel restaurant after its license was suspended for failing to comply with coronavirus-related requirements.

Oxford County Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon granted a temporary restraining order against Two Brothers LLC, which owns and operates Sunday River Brewing Co.

This marks the second time this judge has ordered the restaurant closed since Gov. Janet Mills first issued an executive order in March aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus.

McKeon ordered the restaurant closed in May because it was operating without a license.

Co-owner Rick Savage said Wednesday he has no plans to close. He said he’s been unfairly targeted and is preparing to bring a lawsuit against the state for harassment.

“We’re not shutting down,” he said. “So, we’re still open” seven days a week.

The Bethel restaurateur gained national attention in the spring when he announced that he would keep the business open in protest of Mills’ order.

For his actions, Savage was spotlighted by some media and made appearances on national television news programs. He also attended several protests of Mills’ order.

Savage said Mills has a “vendetta against us because we called her out.”

He said he will challenge the judge’s latest order in court.

In October, McKeon issued an injunction against the company, placing restrictions on its operations, but stopped short of closing the restaurant.

One of the conditions ordered last month by the judge was to allow inspections by state workers.

According to court documents filed on Friday, an inspector from the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery visited the restaurant on Nov. 5 and 6 and observed “various” violations, including Savage “not wearing a mask at any point while at the restaurant.” The inspector “also observed that certain staff members were either not wearing a mask, or wearing a mask not properly situated on their nose.”

Savage and his brother, Ron, had signed court affidavits in October committing to wearing masks while at the restaurant, according to McKeon’s order.

On Nov. 9, inspectors from the Department of Health and Human Services visited the restaurant in an effort to perform an inspection. While waiting for the owners to arrive, they saw several mask violations, McKeon’s order said.

When he arrived at the restaurant, Rick Savage “became verbally aggressive with the inspectors, accusing them of harassment and threatening to have the inspectors removed by the Oxford County Sheriff,” McKeon wrote.

Concerned for their safety, the inspectors abandoned their mission. As they drove away from the restaurant, Ron Savage “tailgated” them with his vehicle, McKeon’s order said. One of the inspectors said that as they drove at 25 to 30 mph, Savage “squealed his tires and revved his engine and pulled his car within feet of the inspector’s vehicle,” McKeon wrote.

Based on the violations observed by the inspectors, DHHS again suspended the restaurant’s license.

“The court finds that the overall public interest will not be adversely affected by granting the (DHHS) request for a temporary restraining order,” McKeon wrote. “On the contrary, the public interest benefits from the department’s enforcement of its pandemic restrictions and will reduce the risk defendant poses to the spread of COVID-19.”

The judge’s order remains in effect for the 30-day suspension period, or a hearing on the request for the restraining order, or a hearing on a motion by either the department or the business, whichever comes first, McKeon wrote.

In his October order, McKeon wrote that the restaurant’s employees must wear face masks. If they can’t, they’re barred from waiting on or bussing tables, interacting with the public or coming within six feet of anybody, including staff.

Plexiglass dividers must not be removed and parties seated at tables and bar stools must be separated by more than six feet, McKeon wrote.

DHHS spokeswoman Jackie Farwell said Wednesday that Sunday River Brewing Company is currently not licensed to operate since McKeon issued his order on Friday.

“The Maine CDC Health Inspection Program enforces safety protocols uniformly, with an emphasis on educating establishments about how to comply,” Farwell wrote in an email. “Citations are the next step when compliance is not achieved. This is standard enforcement practice for establishments that don’t abide by the safety protocols.”

Rick Savage refuted claims by inspectors, saying Wednesday he and his staff were fully in compliance with the governor’s mandates for restaurants, including mask wearing and plexiglass dividers when state inspectors came to his restaurant. In fact, he said, the inspectors were the ones who weren’t wearing masks nor were they socially distancing.

The same state inspectors have popped into the restaurant several times since last spring, he said.

“I’m the most inspected restaurant in the United States,” he said.

Savage said the state is fining him $600 every day that he’s open in defiance of his license suspension.

“It’s selective enforcement at this point,” he said. “And we’re tired of the harassment … It’s just out of control.”

Savage said he had followed the state inspectors to town after leaving his restaurant to see whether they were visiting any other restaurants to ensure compliance with Mills’ restrictions.

The inspectors didn’t stop at any other restaurants, he said.

“What they’re trying to do is make it look like we’re unruly,” he said. “It’s just the opposite.”

He said he’s the only restaurant the state has closed for non-compliance with the governor’s order.

“It’s pretty ironic,” he said.

Savage said he’s a 56-year-old law-abiding veteran who has no criminal record.

He said the state has spent thousands of dollars and devoted so much time in an effort to shut down his business that it has backed up their other duties.

“They just keep coming back to us and harassing us because I called (Mills) out and she doesn’t like it,” he said.

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