GREENVILLE, Maine — A restaurant owner was on the hot seat Thursday for his earlier reward of a free sandwich to patrons who plunged naked into cold Moosehead Lake.
Leigh Turner, whose application for a liquor license renewal for the Black Frog Restaurant was denied late last year by Greenville selectmen because of nudity and safety concerns, met Thursday for an appeal hearing before Department of Public Safety officials. The department will decide, based on Thursday’s testimony, whether the local board’s denial was without justifiable cause. Turner is operating on a temporary license until the matter is resolved.
Although the Black Frog’s famed prime rib French dip sandwich is still offered, the menu no longer promotes the nude jump for a free sandwich, Turner told the hearing officers, Lt. David Bower of the Maine State Police, state Supervisor of Liquor Licensing Jeffrey Austin and State Liquor Licensing Inspector Carolyn Belanger. Also attending the hearing were Assistant Attorney General Michelle Robert and several municipal officials.
“We have always been scrupulous in obeying all liquor laws,” Turner testified. He said he has never tolerated misbehavior or drunkenness at his restaurant, which employs up to 38 seasonal employees, nor has he had any other liquor enforcement issues while in business.
The “skinny dip sandwich” was part of his marketing plan to make the menu humorous, Turner said. He said one or two people a week would take the plunge in the summer and all patrons were asked ahead of time to make sure no one was offended. “Our intent was never to offend people,” he said.
When selectmen first raised the issue about the skinny dip sandwich in 2007, Turner said he was told by legal counsel that the skinny dip was not illegal based on other court cases. He said he found out otherwise when two men and a woman, who took the plunge last year, were summoned for indecent exposure. The men were fined and the charge against the woman was dropped. He said he removed the free promotion when he learned selectmen had denied his license renewal.
Greenville Police Chief Scott MacMaster said Thursday that based on safety concerns and the complaints, mostly verbal, he recommended that selectmen deny the renewal. He said Greenville markets itself as a family-oriented town, and that a family including young children had observed the trio’s naked jump. His concern also was for the safety of those taking the plunge, especially if they had been drinking, he said.
Other than the nudity shown during the jumps at the restaurant, MacMaster said he has never had a problem with Turner and his restaurant. “He does run a good, clean establishment,” he said.
Turner said he needs the liquor license to continue serving the public. “We cannot exist without a liquor license,” he said. “I’ve done everything I was asked to do.”
It is unknown how long the Department of Public Safety will take to issue a ruling, but once it does, the matter can be appealed by either the town or Turner in court.