State officials pulled a Maine restaurant’s health and liquor licenses after the owner opened up in defiance of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency shutdown order.
Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, opened his restaurant and bar on May 1 after openly challenging Mills on an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” the evening before. After Savage reopened, officials from the state health department revoked the health and liquor licenses he needs to operate.
“We’ve tried to call the governor; you can’t even get ahold of them. The lawmakers are left in the dark, both Republicans and Democrats. She’s doing this all rogue on her own,” Savage said on Fox News on April 30. “We’ve had enough of it. We are encouraging all businesses in Maine to open up. We never should have been shut down in the first place. We need to open back up.”
Savage purportedly read Mills’ cell phone number live on air at the end of the interview while host Tucker Carlson attempted to cut him off. The business owner encouraged people to call Mills and protest her shutdown order.
By Saturday morning, Maine had reported having 1,123 cases of the coronavirus – a rate of less than 0.84 cases per 1,000 people – and 55 deaths.
About 108,500 Mainers have filed unemployment claims since March 15 as the United States began seriously ramping up its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Mills issued an executive order on March 18 closing dine-in areas in restaurants and bars and prohibiting crowds of more than 10 people.
The governor issued a state stay-at-home order on March 31, originally set to expire on May 1. On Tuesday, Mills extended her order for another month to May 31.
Savage defied Mills’ extension of the stay-at-home order and reopened at noon on May 1. Crowds of people from across the state came to Sunday River Brewing to support the restaurant until it closed early on Friday after state officials revoked its license to operate.
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s totally ridiculous,” Savage said in an interview after his business closed on Friday. Mills was coming after him in retaliation for making her “look bad” on Carlson’s show and for defying her order, he said.
The restaurateur has vowed to keep his restaurant and bar open and is encouraging other businesses to join him in a class action lawsuit against the state government. Savage is launching an online donation page to pay his and other businesses owners’ fines for operating during the shutdown.
Under Maine law, people caught violating an executive order are subject to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Savage does not expect to be arrested, but he may be fined up to three times a day for violating the stay-at-home order, operating a restaurant without a license, and selling alcohol without a license.
“We’re hearing from a ton of other businesses that are going to open,” Savage said. “They’re going to go under … people don’t have big slush funds in their accounts, you know? Restaurants are week-to-week businesses, a lot of them.”
“You can’t [extend the emergency order] three days before it [expires]. It doesn’t work,” Savage said. “We had food ordered. We were making chowders and chilis and all that stuff. And we’re like, ‘No, we’re opening.’ We’re clean, we can give people social distancing, we can do it right.”
Business owners and others are expected to protest against Mills’ order in Augusta on Saturday.
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