Dominic Petrillo, owner of Petrillo’s in Freeport, admitted Tuesday that he has been allowing diners to eat inside his restaurant since June 4, despite a state prohibition on indoor dining during the coronavirus pandemic. He said a state health inspector temporarily suspended his license after a visit Monday.

“I’ll get a lawyer,” Petrillo said. “I’ll fight back. I’ll file the appeals process. I’m not just going to go limp and let them take my license away. I’m going to continue to stay open, and I’ll face the fines and the penalties as they come, according to the final findings of the court.”

Dominic Petrillo, owner of Petrillo’s in Freeport, would like to talk to whoever called the state to report that his restaurant has been serving diners indoors in violation of the governor’s executive order. “I need to understand why you have been working so hard to shut down my business,” he wrote on Facebook. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Petrillo said even though he’s not happy about the suspension, he’s even angrier that it was someone in his community who reported his actions to the state. The situation became public after Petrillo posted about it on the restaurant’s Facebook page, daring the person who “called the tattletale hotline” to come forward. Petrillo said someone had called the state four times to report him.

“Neighbor, please, meet me to talk,” he wrote on Facebook. “Just talk, this is not some childish veiled threat. This is a neighbor asking to speak with a neighbor. I need to understand why you have been working so hard to shut down my business.”

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed that the state’s Health Inspection Program issued an Imminent Health Hazard Finding and temporarily suspended Petrillo’s license on Monday “based on an investigation of multiple complaints that the establishment was violating the governor’s executive order.”

Petrillo said he immediately appealed the citation and requested an administrative hearing. He said he is certain he is not alone in violating the executive order. Currently, restaurants in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties are only allowed to offer outdoor dining. Restaurants in Maine’s 13 more-rural counties have been offering dine-in eating for nearly a month.

“There’s loads of other restaurants letting people in their doors,” he said. “I’m not uttering their names to anyone. I don’t feel like it’s my place.”

In his case, Petrillo said he had been following all of the public health guidelines for indoor dining. He has removed most of his tables and spaced them apart. He’s replaced condiments with individual packets. His four servers, who are wearing masks, sanitize the menus and tabletops between uses. He’s posted signs for the public reminding them that they must wear masks at all times, except when seated at a table.

Petrillo said he’s not one of those people who think the coronavirus is a hoax, or “fake news,” calling that belief “nonsense.” He says he is as concerned as anyone else about the spread of the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

“I would never be so arrogant as to say to heck with all the restrictions and do what you want and hang out with your friends and take off your mask,” he said.

“I’m not trying to go all Rick Savage over here,” Petrillo said, referring to the Bethel brew pub owner who reopened his business early – announcing it on Fox News – lost his licenses, and is now part of a federal class-action lawsuit arguing that Gov. Janet Mills is violating business owners’ rights. “I‘m not going on ‘Tucker Carlson (Tonight)’ or any foolishness like that. I just want to be able to operate my business.”

In his Facebook post, Petrillo wrote that if his restaurant remains closed, he is in danger of losing the business and his family’s home, and might have to file for bankruptcy. In a phone interview,  Petrillo backed off those predictions somewhat, saying he could probably survive another six months on takeout and outdoor dining. “We’re not seeing a profit here,” he said. “We haven’t turned a profit since this whole thing started.”

Petrillo said that even with the few days’ worth of indoor dining, business has been “quite slow.” He said his customers have been mostly regulars, while others come in “in clear defiance, to commiserate over what is an unjust situation. Some come in just for a good time.”

The restaurant’s Facebook fans – there were more than 700 comments on Petrillo’s post by Tuesday night – were mostly supportive and sympathetic to Petrillo’s situation.

Vanessa Musser of Brunswick wrote: “If every other county is able to open following safety guidelines I don’t see the difference. As long as you’re being safe about it. It shouldn’t matter if you’re serving outside or inside.”

But some thought Petrillo made the wrong choice. George Dalphin of Portland wrote: “Everyone needs the government to help us financially through this time, but it does not make it okay to make yourself a potential spreader of this plague.”

Many of them had choice words for the person or persons who reported the restaurant to the state. Petrillo says he still would like to know who it was, and have a civil conversation with them. This, he says, is the part that hurts the most.

“Freeport is my hometown,” he said. “I went to high school there. I know the cops. I know the teachers. I’ve coached the local sports teams. I’ve supported the Freeport performing arts. I’ve supported the churches. I’ve supported the sports teams for 14 years. I’ve given back every step of the way. Even when I was too poor to do it, I still did it.

“I’m more offended that someone would step out against me in the community than to go to the state and argue. I know the state’s just got their stupid job to do.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.