A Bethel brew pub that’s been clashing with the state about reopening finally got its health and liquor licenses back this week so it could serve customers food and drink again.

Rick Savage makes doughnuts in the kitchen of the Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel in preparation of opening up his restaurant to the public May 1 in defiance of state order. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file Buy this Photo

It didn’t last long.

Rick Savage, the co-owner of Sunday River Brewing Co., confirmed Friday morning that state officials “took all permits yesterday for not wearing masks.”

The restaurant posted on its Facebook page shortly before noon Friday that it is open for dining and takeout, including canned beer to go, but cannot serve alcohol on the premises.

The state Department of Health and Human Services suspended Sunday River’s health license Thursday after an inspection found health and safety violations, said Jackie Farwell, the department’s communications director. Among the violations were a “repeated failure of staff to wear cloth face coverings” as required by the state, she said.

The first guideline listed for restaurants seeking to reopen in Maine says their employees must “wear cloth face coverings and practice good hand hygiene.”


The restaurant’s liquor license, on the other hand, has not been pulled.

“Rick’s liquor license has not been suspended. Only a court is able to do that,” said Kyle Hadyniak, spokesman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

It is not clear why the restaurant at 29 Sunday River Road is able to operate without a health license or why it is not selling alcohol on its premises. Neither Savage nor the state responded to a request for comments.

Savage, who is suing the state for its pandemic-related clampdown on businesses, declared on social media Tuesday that he had just gotten his food and liquor licenses back after having them pulled for violating state orders.

“We will be serving our beer tomorrow after a long few months,” he declared.

A number of patrons posted photographs of themselves eating and drinking at the brew pub after that, many of them adding that it was following social distancing and sanitation rules.


Savage, who’s become a celebrity among those insisting government-ordered closures should be reversed, reopened the brew pub early in the month despite orders then by Gov. Janet Mills that restaurants had to remain closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

At the time, he did not serve alcohol because he did not want to risk losing his liquor license, but was ordered to close by health inspectors because he was violating the governor’s orders. He reopened and then closed down one more time before this week, without offering alcohol to patrons on the premises.

Mills has since relaxed the rules for Maine’s rural counties, including Oxford County where Savage’s restaurant is located. That allowed him to try again starting Wednesday after getting his licenses back.

He didn’t even make it to Friday before authorities stopped Sunday River Brewing from serving alcohol again because of the lack of face masks.

“This has to stop,” Savage later posted online.

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