Sunday River Brewing Co. on Route 2 in Bethel will open under new management next week, soon to be followed by a new owner. The owners, brothers Rick and Ron Savage, were at the center of controversy there last year for flouting pandemic mandates and railing against Gov. Janet Mills. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

BETHEL — Sunday River Brewing Co. is tentatively set to reopen next week under new management, and soon, a new owner, according to Rick Savage, who last year drew headlines for flouting pandemic restrictions that eventually led to the business’ state liquor and restaurant licenses being tied up in court.

The restaurant is hosting a hiring event Thursday and plans call for opening its doors as early as June 9.

Asked about the past year’s notoriety — Savage appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, racked up fines, and his brother was accused of tailgating health inspectors who left abruptly, concerned for their safety — Bar Harbor restaurateur Michael Boland said, “What matters at this point is getting the restaurant back up and running and getting the many folks that have worked there in the past and some new ones working again.”

He added, “We’ve applied for all relevant licenses under a totally new corporation and all state entities have been helpful in moving expeditiously.”

June 9 is an aspirational opening date, Boland said. “We hope to get there but of course are following all town, county and state guidelines.”

Boland owns Havana Restaurant in Bar Harbor with his wife, owns Northeast Harbor’s Copita and the Choco-Latte café in Bar Harbor with a partner, and owns the Islesford Dock Restaurant & Gallery on Little Cranberry Island with a second partner.

Savage, who owns Sunday River Brewing Co. with his brother, Ron, said the restaurant on Route 2, a few miles from Sunday River Ski Resort, hadn’t been on the market when Boland reached out.

“We got what we wanted, so we sold it,” Savage said. “We’re businessmen, we own seven companies; this is not our only operation.”

Rick Savage standing in front of his Sunday River Brewing Co. in 2017. Steve Collins/Sun Journal file photo

A mutual friend made the introduction. Boland said he’d eaten at the restaurant “many, many times over the last 25 years or more.”

“While it wasn’t listed, I believe the brothers were weighing their options on a path forward for the restaurant when we connected,” he said. “I love the western Maine mountains and Bethel in particular, and while we’ve bounced back and forth between Sugarloaf and Sunday River over the years, we’re certainly excited about putting down some roots in the Bethel area. We have one freshman in high school and our second girl is in fifth grade so winters and skiing in the area over the next multiple years is a great fit for our family.”

He anticipates employing at least 60 people, a mix of full- and part-time. Boland said he feels fortunate that the general manager and many prior employees are returning.

“We’ll certainly add some things and drop others on the menu, and plan on making some changes to the flow and organization but most guests will not notice any changes,” he said. “The Savage brothers and folks that worked there ran a great restaurant — many people don’t know that the chili, chowder and almost every other item was made completely from scratch. That’s tough to do with a big place like that but they did it, and we intend to keep doing it.”

The restaurant is under contract for an undisclosed sale price and opening initially with a one-month lease, according to Savage.

The Savage brothers’ issues with the state began early in the pandemic with Rick Savage telling Carlson on April 30, 2020, that Gov. Janet Mills was limiting business activity “to break our state even more than we are now.” He also reportedly gave out her cellphone number on the air.

Shawn Garrity of Arundel staples a sign of support for the Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel before the restaurant opens one morning in May 2020. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

The restaurant became a lightning rod from there, opening after the state ordered it not to, collecting citations — four for imminent health hazards and five for temporary license suspensions, plus two temporary restraining orders between May 1 and Dec. 1, according to one state official.

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services signaled it wouldn’t renew the restaurant’s license.

Norway attorney Ted Dilworth said Tuesday that two appeals were still pending with no movement on them since December.

“There’s really two appeals going, one on the liquor side, one on the health side, and we’re just waiting for court decisions on those,” said Dilworth, who was not aware of a pending sale.

A DHHS spokeswoman said Wednesday that a new restaurant license application had been filed by Boland with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention Health Inspection Program on May 20 and HIP had 30 days to issue a decision.

Similarly, a Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery spokeswoman said a liquor license application from Boland’s new company, Sunday River Restaurant and Brewpub, had been approved by the municipality on May 24 and is under review at the state level.

After the sale, the Savage brothers won’t be involved in either ownership or management, Boland said.

“They will hopefully be continuing customers and friends of the business, as we will of them,” he said.

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