ORONO, Maine — After nearly a month of legal and financial wrangling, and a big closing-night bash, one of downtown’s most popular restaurants will remain open and in the hands of its current proprietor.
Matt Haskell, the owner of the Bear Brew Pub, said a deal to sell the business fell through because the buyer’s finances didn’t work out.
Haskell and Tom Hashey, who had approached Haskell about buying the pub, both said earlier this month the restaurant would close for a short period of time while Hashey took over the restaurant’s Main Street space and reopen the eatery as I Gemelli, which Hashey wanted to run as a Mediterranean-themed restaurant.
However, Hashey’s financial backer notified Haskell and Hashey earlier this week he was withdrawing his support, Haskell said Thursday.
The Bear Brew, known for its pub menu, local beer on tap and brick-oven pizzas, will remain open until further notice, with Hashey as the restaurant’s new manager. Dinner service is available immediately and lunch will be served starting next week.
In about 1½ weeks of uncertainty about where the sale stood, Haskell said, the Bear Brew has lost upwards of $50,000 because customers were unsure whether the pub was open.
“I’m sorry that this has happened, and I feel kind of embarrassed,” said Haskell, who has owned the Bear Brew since 2002. “I still feel it was OK to [announce the ownership change and closure], especially after owning it for a certain amount of years. To not tell my customers and my employees would be the wrong way to do things. I think I did things the right way.”
Haskell said Hashey had gained financial backing from Dr. John Tozer, a Bangor dentist and Orono resident.
The plan was for Hashey to takeover the Bear Brew Pub building’s first floor and second-floor balcony, while Haskell would keep ownership of the rest of the second floor, a nightclub-type venue known as Club Soma 36. Haskell also had plans to renovate the building’s third floor where he would serve finger foods that would not require a full kitchen.
The two men were planning to make structural changes to the building that would physically separate the two businesses.
A purchase-and-sale agreement was signed, Haskell said, and he and Hachey appeared Jan. 11 before the Orono Town Council to discuss the changes and gain approval for their liquor licenses.
Haskell also announced the Bear Brew would hold a final party on Saturday, Jan. 16, which Haskell believed would bring some closure to his role in the business. He planned to stay open through Monday, Jan. 18.
However, as the legal and financial negotiations broke down, Haskell kept the Bear Brew open. Patrons were under the impression the restaurant already had closed, he said, and business fell off.
One particularly sharp drop happened Thursday Jan. 21, Haskell said. The Bear Brew’s typical Thursday-night take is around $9,000, he said, but last week the Bear Brew did $320 that night.
“That trend has happened since the [closing] party we had,” Haskell said. “I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. I am a little bit confused. But I have to stand up and take care of my employees and my restaurant.”
Tozer became increasingly difficult to contact, Haskell said, and finally told the group Sunday he was pulling his financial support.
Reached at his home Thursday, Tozer said he did not try to purchase the Bear Brew and declined to comment further.
“I wish them all well,” he said.
Hashey, an Orono native, could not be reached for comment.
Haskell, who also owns Finback Alehouse in Bar Harbor, said other buyers have expressed interest in the business but he is committed to selling to Hashey, a former cook at Woodman’s Bar & Grill in Orono. Paul Baldacci, another former Woodman’s employee, is set to manage the Bear Brew’s kitchen.
Haskell said he hopes Hashey can come up with a down payment in the near future so they can work out an owner-financed deal.
“I’m not going to back-door Tom and leave him hanging,” Haskell said. “He has other people who are hanging on this, and some of my employees are without a job now. For the ones that are here, it’s so dead here that it’s discouraging because everybody thinks we’re closed.”
There are only 10 Bear Brew employees left out of a former crew of 25. Haskell said former employees should contact him if they are interested in returning to the pub.
Haskell expressed appreciation for Hashey, Baldacci, his accountants, building owner Milos Blagojevic, the remaining Bear Brew employees, his family, friends and others who have continued to frequent the pub despite the confusion over its status.
“We are going to be here,” Haskell said. “If Tom comes up with the money to buy this place, I will sell it to him. But I’m not going anywhere otherwise.”