River Jack Tavern owners Morgan and Kent Eliassen at the eatery’s outdoor seating area, which overlooks the Kennebec River. The restaurant and tavern at 230 Main St. in Fairfield is expected to open in mid-December. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — Not even a pandemic and a labor shortage could stop Kent and Morgan Eliassen from opening a restaurant and tavern in Fairfield that they say will bring elevated pub food to the region.

The River Jack Tavern is expected to open in mid-December at 230 Main St.

It will seat about 30 and aims for a comfortable pub feel, according to Kent Eliassen. In warmer weather, the restaurant will offer outdoor seating on a deck overlooking the Kennebec River.

“We looked at what already exists in the area and didn’t want to step on any toes or duplicate what’s already available,” he said, “so we decided on kind of down-home comfort pub food.”

The couple said their plan is to open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and offer brunch Sunday mornings.

While the Eliassens will run the restaurant, they said they are not alone in the endeavor. Scott McIntire bought the building and has worked with the couple on renovations and to get it ready for opening. McIntire has had similar arrangements previously, where he has bought properties and as landlord handed over operations to trusted partners.

The River Jack Tavern is not McIntire’s first foray into restaurants. He has a similar setup at the Three Robbers Pub in Bowdoinham and The Two Cent Pub in Winslow, and he owned The Old Goat Pub in Richmond, before selling it this summer.

Drawings of men working as river jacks are displayed last Thursday at the River Jack Tavern at 230 Main St. in Fairfield. The drawings by artist Manon Whittlesey will be part of the decor at the restaurant and tavern, scheduled to open in mid-December. The eatery is to include outdoor seating overlooking the Kennebec River. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“Every town I’ve worked in has been very receptive,” McIntire said. “Pubs are important parts of communities. This is where people can go and communicate with other people, at that informal social center.”

McIntire and the Eliassens have a shared history. McIntire met Morgan when she was a regular customer at The Old Goat Pub. After a few years, she began working there and, after that, Morgan met Kent. The three have worked together on and off, developing personal and business relationships. The Eliassens even catered the wedding of McIntire’s son.

McIntire has bought buildings and helped set up other restaurants. He said these days, he likes the excitement of setup more than overseeing daily operations.

He said he had contacted the Eliassens previously about running some of his other locations, but things never worked out. The Eliassens said they felt they did not have the right experience or were not ready to move their family.

But the time finally came when the Eliassens felt ready for a change, so when McIntire offered the possibility of moving to central Maine from the Brunswick area and working in Fairfield, they decided they were ready to be their own boss.

Once the decision was made to take on the restaurant, things moved quickly. The Eliassens moved to Mercer this fall, and have been working since then to get the River Jack Tavern into shape.

The River Jack Tavern is scheduled to open in mid-December at 230 Main St. in Fairfield. The restaurant and tavern is to include outdoor seating overlooking the Kennebec River. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The Eliassens and McIntire have never lacked enthusiasm for the project, although starting it during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges. Hiring employees has been the biggest obstacle, according to Kent Eliassen. He said they are still hoping to hire a few people to work, but are also working on a backup plan.

The restaurant and tavern are fairly small, Kent Eliassen said, so the couple could run it themselves. Eliassen said he has two potential menus in mind for opening — one if they have additional staff members, the other if the couple are working the River Jack Tavern on their own.

“Working in restaurants, even in good times, it’s hard to find employees,” Eliassen said. “And in this climate, we’ll see. So I’m prepared to run it alone all day long, if I have to.”

But even with all the hurdles of opening, the Eliassens said they are ready to settle into the community in Fairfield.

“We’re still pretty new to the area,” Kent Eliassen said. “We’ve only lived here for a little over a month, but we love the pace of life up here, and are excited to become part of the community and build our own little community at the River Jack.”

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