Bethel Brewery's Licenses Temporarily Suspended After Owner Defies Executive Order

May 1, 2020

A Bethel brewery owner who defied a state emergency order not to allow dine-in customers in his pub until June 1 has been issued a temporary suspension of his license to serve food by Maine’s Health Inspection Program.

Rick Savage of the Sunday River Brewing Co. was also issued a citation by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

Both licenses can now be subject to review and potential suspension and revocation, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. And by Friday night, a post on the brewery’s Facebook page said the business would be closed until further notice.

Earlier in the day, Savage said he is prepared to take Gov. Janet Mills and the state of Maine to court.

“We’re gonna sue them because I don’t think it’s constitutional what she’s doing. There’s not one person should have power over the whole state, period. She keeps all the lawmakers out of the loop — Democrats, Republicans, everything,” he said.

More than 150 people came to the Sunday River Brewing Co. Friday
Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public

Savage says he’s lost $650,000 during the state shutdown over the past six weeks. He says it’s not fair for everyone to be shut down this long, especially when he says he has enough room to safely seat customers 6 feet apart.

“I’m spacing people at tables the same as going into Walmart or anybody else. There’s no difference. I’m spacing them. They got their space, if they don’t want to come in, don’t come in, you know we can bring it out to your car,” he says.

At a press briefing on Friday, Gov. Mills acknowledged the frustration over the pace of gradually opening the state’s economy, but she also warned about the dangers of doing it too quickly. As an example, she pointed to Georgia, where there were 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported in a single day after businesses opened their doors.

In Maine, the first phase of reopening, which began May 1, allows businesses such as barber shops, hair salons, car dealerships, golf courses and pet groomers to get back to work under certain conditions.

More than 150 people came to the Sunday River Brewing Co. Friday.
Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public

But it’s not just business owners who are anxious to resume operations. By 4 p.m. Friday, more than 100 people had lined up outside Sunday River Brewing waiting to get a seat at a table. Only a couple of people were seen wearing required face coverings, and few were practicing social distancing.

Kate Marie and Niko Torres of Auburn were one exception. They say they agree with social distancing and think there’s a way to do it safely in certain establishments.

“There’s obviously a problem, and we know how to prevent it and take the right precautions. Obviously, there shouldn’t be 100 people touching each other at a concert right now. It doesn’t seem like the best scenario, but there’s always a balance,” Marie says.

Jessica Swan and her husband, Jake, came from Vassalboro to show their support for Savage and the brewery. As business owners themselves, they say they don’t understand why some stores can open and some can’t.

“I feel it’s unfair to the little stores. I mean the big retailers — we went to Home Depot the other day and that was probably the busiest we’ve ever seen it,” Swan says, “but yet, you can’t go to the dentist, and I think the dentist is a little bit more important than the hair salon.”

Savage, who went on a Fox News program Thursday night to rail against Gov. Mills and the ongoing stay-at-home order, said he’s received an outpouring of support online as well as in person for his decision to defy the state order.

This isn’t the first time he’s taken on elected officials. In 2012, Savage was charged with terrorizing, disorderly conduct and refusing to submit to arrest or detention after allegedly threatening the Bethel town manager. For a time, Janet Mills served as his defense attorney in the case, although Savage said they parted ways before the charges were eventually dropped.