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No restaurants affected by the state’s decision to delay dining room reopenings in three counties have taken up the Maine Department of Corrections on its offer to buy food the businesses may have stocked up on in anticipation of opening on Monday.
One business inquired about the offer but never followed up, said Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty.
The offer from the state prison system expires Friday.
While restaurants in York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties were slated to be able to reopen their indoor dining rooms on Monday as part of Gov. Janet Mills’ multi-stage economic reopening, the governor last Wednesday put those reopenings on hold, citing a growing number of coronavirus hospitalizations in those counties.
While some restaurants were not prepared to open that day, others had bought food and hired staff. Some sued the state over the delay in a sign of increasing friction between businesses and the governor over the state’s reopening.
The Department of Corrections offered businesses in those counties an olive branch over the weekend with an offer to buy perishable and non-perishable food other than dairy products. As of Wednesday, none had taken the state up on its offer.
The restaurants in those counties are allowed to open for outdoor dining.
“It’s possible that the ability to dine outside, and some cities closing some streets to expand that, may have relieved some of that burden of overstocking inventory,” Liberty said.
The state’s prisons have a $4.1 million food budget, Liberty said, with 20 percent of that used to purchase food outside the terms of a contract. The tight timeframe of the offer was meant to encourage restaurants to offload perishables, Liberty said. The time frame could be extended if people are interested.
That Place in Ogunquit owner Ricky Dolliver equated the offer to a “slap in the face” for restaurants.
Like others, Dolliver said he prepared to reopen his dining room by reducing the number of tables in his dining room and stocking food. He said he was able to cancel produce orders he placed last week before the food was delivered, but he decided not to cancel an order for meat, which he said he could dry-age.
“She couldn’t come close to paying me what I spent,” Dolliver said, referring to Mills and using a $32-per-pound filet mignon order he placed as an example.
Jim MacNeill, who owns the Maine Diner in Wells, said he had already been doubtful before Mills’ announcement last week that his business would be able to expand beyond take-out dining in time for June 1. He said he had been planning to reopen the restaurant beyond takeout and outdoor dining on June 15 because he was wary that the reopening plan might change again.
MacNeill plans to buy a tent to seat around 50 people outside, he said. He was skeptical that anything less than a full reopening, however, would be enough to keep his business open past the summer.
“Without humans coming to the restaurant, there’s no point in ramping up,” he said.
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase