After months of construction and much speculation over what business will occupy the former Searsport Automotive facility at 357 West Main St., residents got a glimpse at the July 21 selectmen's meeting.

Restaurant General Manager John Sullivan told the board the long building with the green metal roof and the octagon addition on the Belfast line will be the new home of two businesses: a restaurant and a locksmith.

Rio's Spiked Cafe LLC, a European tapas bar and cafe, will be on the right side of the building, with an outside deck and a view of Penobscot Bay.

According to Sullivan, in order to support area farmers, the restaurant will locally source organic produce and serve small plated snacks known as "tapas," along with a full bar featuring cocktails and spirits.

"We will have a little bit of everything," Sullivan said, "We'll go around the world with different choices" including Portuguese, Americana and Spanish tapas.

Property owner Russell Manton, a British transplant who also owns and operates Suretech Access Systems, a high-tech lock business servicing hotels, will have an office, retail space, warehouse and workshop in the remaining parts of the building.

In an interview with The Republican Journal July 29, Manton said he envisions two other potential businesses as offshoots of the restaurant and lock business.

One of the spin-off businesses, Manton said, is a company he has named "The Print Farm," which would employ 3-D printers currently used at Suretech.

The machines can print on a variety of materials, including plastic and aluminum, and are ideal for making prototypes. Manton said he has been making face masks and ear protectors for the Searsport Police Department using the devices.

The fourth potential business revolves around a Northern Romania/Eastern Hungary (Manton's wife is Romanian) dessert known as "kurtos kalac" or chimney cake. "It's like the best doughnut you've ever had in your life," Manton said.

While traveling through Europe, Manton and his wife stumbled upon this delicacy, which started them thinking of bringing the idea back home to Maine. The dough is simply rolled around a cylinder, then dipped in a flavoring such as honey.

"Once we've got people addicted to this," he said, "we will want to franchise."

The cafe chef, Manton said, is formerly from the Lobster Pound in Lincolnville and the executive chef he's hiring worked at Point Lookout.

With public concern about the coronavirus pandemic in mind, Manton is transforming the cafe into "the safest possible environment for a restaurant." The vestibule, he said, will have built-in heat sensors to monitor patrons' temperatures and alert staff if anyone is running a fever.

The cafe will have an air purification system and each table will have an ultraviolet disinfecting station for cellphones. Restroom surfaces will also be cleaned using UV disinfecting light.

"I have a family and I don't feel comfortable taking them out to a restaurant," he said. "I think other people feel that way as well."

Structurally, the building was in need of much work. "It's like peeling an onion," Manton said.

The foundation had to be rebuilt, he said, after it was discovered that the building was sinking into itself sitting on clay. He spent two years on ductwork and French drains because the basement, as he described, was an "indoor swimming pool," with the flow of water coming down the hill.

The facility has previously been a restaurant, a gym, a hardware store and most recently a garage, he said, and noted "It's taken a lot of work" to get to this point.

The cafe will be have a safe, family-friendly environment with fast internet for people wishing to bring their laptops and work. "You won't see a lot of TVs all over the place," he said.

At this point in construction, Manton is beginning to install the equipment. Sundog Solar will be putting up panels on the roof, the parking lot will soon be paved and a two-vehicle charging station will be constructed.

Manton said there is still a lot to be done, but he hopes to be open by the third week in September.

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