After getting shut down for food processing violations three years ago, a retail smoked seafood business in Hancock expects to be up and running again by the end of the month.
Sullivan Harbor Farm had been planning to reopen in December, but the federal government shutdown delayed the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of required paperwork — which, according to owner Leslie Harlow, rendered her five employees jobless while they waited for the agency to reopen.
The shutdown ended after five weeks, and Harlow received the needed approvals from FDA to resume smoking and curing salmon on Valentine’s Day.
On Tuesday, Harlow and her employees celebrated the reopening of the business by inviting friends and supporters to a ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the Route 1 store and processing site.
“We’re really excited to be back in business,” Harlow said. “What I know today far exceeds what I knew three years ago.”
Harlow also owns other businesses and real estate, including the Maine Grind building in downtown Ellsworth, where the Bangor Daily News rents an office.
Sullivan Harbor Farm’s troubles dated back to 2004, when the FDA first cited it for violations of food safety law and regulations. Over several subsequent inspections, the agency found repeated violations and the company struggled to stay afloat and properly permitted. Those efforts were severely hampered by a former manager who, from 2013 through 2015, embezzled thousands of dollars from the business and failed to file necessary paperwork with the FDA, according to a report published by the Ellsworth American weekly newspaper.
In early 2016, the FDA obtained an injunction in federal court to have Sullivan Harbor Farm cease operations.
Not long after that, Harlow, who co-owned the business with a former husband, bought him out and spent money to upgrade the facilities. In addition to the loss from the employee theft and thousands of dollars spent on attorneys and consultants, she also spent thousands more making sure her employees were trained to meet government standards in proper seafood handling.
Harlow said it was important to her to keep the company, which was founded in 1992, small enough to be considered artisanal but professional enough to make sure it steers clear of further run-ins with federal regulators.
“It’s been really, really hard,” she said. “This is a real reason to celebrate a little business that got in a lot of trouble.”
Harlow said she expects to open the retail shop and to resume shipping mail orders by the end of March.