BETHEL — Facing nearly 60 employees who are again out of work, a co-owner of Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel made his case Tuesday that the state reconsider its previous decision not to renew the restaurant’s eating and catering license.

The business owners, brothers Rick and Ron Savage of Bethel, hoped to get a last-minute reprieve from the court before the license expired Dec. 19, but will now have to wait for an appeal decision from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

During the appeal hearing Tuesday, Ron Savage argued the state should renew the restaurant’s license because Rick Savage is no longer involved in managing the business, and the restaurant has since been in compliance with health regulations.

Rick Savage, he said, was responsible for previous compliance failures and decisions to operate the business without the proper licenses.

State officials, however, said Tuesday there has been a pattern of noncompliance for the past eight months, and there was no reason to believe it will change. They also said they did not believe issues would be corrected by their issuing a conditional license.

Rick Savage, left, and his brother, Ron Savage, both of Bethel, sit with their lawyer, Ted Dilworth, at his Norway office Dec. 2 during a videoconference hearing at Oxford County Superior Court in South Paris. Ron Savage said Tuesday his brother is no longer involved in managing the business. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal file photo

“History shows we’ve been in this exact scenario multiple times since May,” said Margaret Machaiek, an assistant attorney general, adding Ron Savage’s claims that he suddenly has control of decisions at the restaurant, despite months of chances, “doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

“The department is not persuaded that suddenly things have changed,” she said. “The risk to the public is too great, and it’s a risk we’re not willing to take.”

Since May, DHHS has suspended Sunday River Brewing Co.’s license five times for violating Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order in response to the coronavirus pandemic, first implemented March 15.

Last month, a judge found the restaurant and bar in contempt of court for failing to adhere to an earlier restraining order. This month, the business was ordered to remain closed until Dec. 11.

Ron Savage said Tuesday that for the 10-day period after that, “we have been in compliance.”

Ted Dilworth, the Savage brothers’ lawyer, argued Tuesday that Ron Savage had requested an inspection leading up to the Dec. 19 expiration date of the license, but was not given one.

During the hearing, Dilworth pushed state officials to give a specific reason the business is currently not in compliance with health guidelines.

Lisa Silva, manager of the state’s health inspection program, said the business had been given multiple chances to comply, and, given its history, believes it “an imminent threat to public health.”

“We keep seeing the same violations over and over again,” she said Tuesday.

Silva said an inspection was not done at the business following Ron Savage’s request this month because the department is overwhelmed with other inspections. She also said inspectors have complained of abusive treatment by Rick Savage while they sought to carry out earlier assessments of the restaurant.

Silva said Rick Savage has been hostile with inspectors at the property and “tailgates” them when they leave.

Ron Savage said he has had good rapport with the state inspectors, and has 58 employees who are his focus. He repeated comments Tuesday that the business is being unfairly targeted by the state.

“I’ve told my brother that he’s not allowed on the property,” Ron Savage said, adding he will be running the business with his two managers.

Ron Savage said he has had “heated debates” with his brother regarding managing the restaurant.

“Personally and professionally, it was the right thing to do for the employees,” Ron Savage said.

When asked about the earlier instances of noncompliance and operating without a license, Ron Savage said it was his brother’s decision.

Also asked to testify Tuesday was Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, who said the pattern of noncompliance presented a health risk the state did not feel was feasible.

In his closing argument, Dilworth said Ron Savage “has demonstrated that under his leadership, everything is done right.”

“You have got to give this restaurant an opportunity to prove itself,” he said. “Ron is committed to doing this the right way.”

Dilworth also asked the state to award the business a conditional license.

While the presiding administrative hearing officer writes the recommended decision, the final decision lies with the DHHS commissioner.

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