A long-time Evanston restaurant and a recently-opened bakery shut down operations as 2011 ended.

Merle’s BBQ, at 1727 Benson Ave., posted notices on its door and its website saying it had lost its lease and was closed permanently. The restaurant, which opened in 1992, is owned by the Clean Plate Club restaurant group that also owns the Davis Street Fishmarket in Evanston, which remains open.

Last February city health officials blamed poor food handling practices by Merle’s for an outbreak of food poisoning among persons attending parent-teacher conferences at Haven Middle School.

But restaurant owner Larry Huber denied the charges, saying the restaurant had only delivered food to the school, not catered the event, and so wasn’t responsible for how it was handled after it arrived at the school.

An attorney for one person who claimed to have been sickened by the food filed suit against the restaurant.

Last January the Clean Plate Club owners sold their Pete Miller’s restaurants in Evanston and Wheeling to the current owners of the Tommy Nevin’s Pub chain in Evanston, Naperville and Frankfort. Nevin’s had started as a Clean Plate Club restaurant but was sold several years ago.

And Tiny Dog Cupcake Bakery, which opened in late 2010, didn’t make it into the new year either. Signs on the shop at 616 Davis St. say it also has closed, leaving behind just pictures of the sweets on its website.

Top: Tiny Dog’s cupcakes, with the tall swirl of icing on top.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Tiny dog

    Sometimes businesses fail not because locals don't support it, but because of how they are managed.

  2. Merle

    I never ate at Merle's , but the reviews on Yelp suggest that there were a lot of unhappy customers in the last year.

    If Merle "lost its lease", does that mean that the landlord has a new tenant lined up?  Enquiring minds want to know.

  3. Bummer

    Sad- and surprised- to see Merle's go. That was a solid place to eat. I wonder what happened with the lease. It seems odd for a restaurant to abruptly lose it's lease after twenty years.

    Not surprised- or terribly sad- to see Tiny Dog close. My office went there several times during the year and we were usually underwhelmed. The service was hit and miss and the cupcakes were okay to good, but never great.

    1. Cupcake joint doomed from the start

      The whole cupcake bakery phenomenon was bound to come to an end–emblematic of the frivolity of excess that quickly dissipated with the bursting of the real estate bubble.

      In Chicago you could use cupcake bakery proliferation as a indicator of over-developed gentrified neighborhoods.  I mean, if people were willing to pay $1 million for a 1000 sq ft. condo, why not sell $10 cupcakes?

      The other problem with this particular cupcake joint was its name: "Tiny Dog"?

      Sure frivolous names for stores are all over the place, but the owners of this joint failed to take into account the inevitable confusion between its bakery and bakeries that actually make delectibles FOR DOGS.

      In Evanston there is actually a bakery for dog treats–which is probably more superfluous than Tiny Dog.

      1. Don’t Make Me Think

        Sure frivolous names for stores are all over the place, but the owners of this joint failed to take into account the inevitable confusion between its bakery and bakeries that actually make delectibles FOR DOGS.


        Exactly. I thought it was a bakery for dogs. There's a lesson here for entrepreneurs. Don't confuse prospective customers. Like the name of the book about good web UI design…Don't Make Me Think!

      2. Cupcake crumbles

        @ anonymous wrote: "Cupcake joint doomed from the start"….hilarious oberservation!

        I always wondered why the owners never considered their proximity to Bennison's, which served better and cheaper cupcakes along with a whole lot of other baked goods and hot drinks.


  4. Dog Bakery?

    I walked into the bakery thinking that it was a bakery for dogs. When the owner told me that the cupcakes were for humans, I bought a cupcake and suggested that they find another name.

    With that I left and found a place to sit down and eat the cupcake. It was not fresh and did not taste good.

    I think there are two reasons that the business failed.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *