Rick Savage, the owner of Sunday River Brewing Co., addresses reporters outside of his restaurant in this May 1, 2020, file photo. Credit: Charles Eichacker / BDN

A state official has declined to return Sunday River Brewing Co.’s restaurant license, calling it an “imminent threat” for repeatedly violating pandemic restrictions.

Administrative Hearing Officer Richard W. Thackeray Jr. wrote in an 11-page decision dated Dec. 23 that Sunday River Brewing had “failed to correct violations” and that was unlikely to change if granted a conditional license, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal. Those violations have included staff not wearing face coverings and a lack of social distancing.

Thackeray called Sunday River Brewing “an imminent threat to public health and safety” in outlining his decision not to renew the company’s license.

Rick Savage, who owns Sunday River Brewing along with his brother, Ron, became a vocal opponent of Gov. Janet Mills’ restrictions meant to halt the spread of the coronavirus, even reading Mills’ cellphone number during an appearance on Fox News.

After continuing to operate despite having his licenses temporarily revoked, Sunday River Brewing was ordered to close in May, but Savage pledged to defy the order even if it meant going to jail.

The state has said that the brewery’s licenses have been suspended five times and that it has continued to operate in defiance of them.

The brothers’ attorney, Ted Dilworth, has accused the state of singling out Sunday River Brewing for enforcement over Rick Savage’s criticism of coronavirus restrictions.

“They’re the most inspected restaurant, probably, in the United States,” Dilworth told an Oxford County judge earlier this month.

Sunday River Brewing learned on Dec. 7 that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services would not renew its restaurant license after it expired on Dec. 19, according to the Sun Journal. The hearing before Thackeray on Dec. 22 was a bid to overturn that decision.

Dilworth told the Sun Journal on Monday that Sunday River Brewing has been in compliance with state coronavirus restrictions and not accrued any violations over the past month. Rick Savage also has turned over day-to-day operations of the business to his brother in an attempt to soothe relations with the state, according to the newspaper.

“Bottom line, we are in compliance [and] we are doing all we can to stay in compliance with the law,” Dilworth told the newspaper. “We desperately want to protect the livelihood of the 58 families that depend on operation of the restaurant.”

He also challenged the notion that Sunday River Brewing is a public health threat, saying no outbreaks have been traced back to the restaurant and brewery, according to the Sun Journal.

Health Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew still needs to sign off on Thackeray’s decision. That could be appealed to Oxford County Superior Court, where the brewery is already challenging $6,600 in fines for various violations.

Sunday River was barred from serving alcohol until Dec. 28 under another ruling issued by the state in early December. The ruling was issued after staff and the owners were found violating COVID-19 protocols nearly 50 times, an Oxford County judge ruled on Dec. 4.

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