The owner of Merle’s Barbecue says the restaurant isn’t to blame for an outbreak of illness among people at a parent-teacher conference at Haven Middle School in Evanston last month.

Merle’s owner Larry Huber says the city “made a rush to judgment and recklessly issued a press release naming Merle’s as the cause of a food borne illness outbreak without one, single shred of documentation or evidence. In fact, they issued the release before test results were available and the investigation was even concluded.”

Huber says results of tests of food taken directly from Merle’s showed no indication of food-borne illness.

He says the restaurant followed required procedures for preparing the food and marking it with the time that it was prepared.

He adds that, contrary to the city’s claim, Merle’s did not cater the school event, but merely delivered food there. After that, he says, responsibility for the handling the food was up to the school — and the food was left sitting out at room temperature for four hours.

If it had been a fully catered event, Huber added, ” we would have had the appropriate staff and equipment to maintain the presentation and quality.“

He says the same food delivered to Haven Middle School was also served that evening to customers
dining at Merle’s and that the restaurant received no calls, emails, or any report of any illness, complaint, or negative effects.

Huber says he and other restaurant staffers repeatedly called the health department for information about their investigation, only to be told the results were inconclusive — even after the city had sent out its news release.

“We have been a part of this community for many, many years. To be falsely accused, tried and convicted
in front of our families, friends and neighbors has been devastating. I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody,”
Huber says.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. His point about catering vs. ordered food is key

    If true, he'll be fully exonerated and the lawsuit against him will be dismissed.

    If I order pizza with chicken and leave it out at room temperature for several hours and I get salmonella, is that Papa John's fault? No.

    1. Trial lawyers

      This reeks of another trial lawyer looking to cash in on a bogus lawsuit by convincing someone to play the victim. If the case is dismissed or Beatrice Jenkins loses she and her lawyers should be forced to pay Mr. Huber the $50K, his legal fees and for a PR campaign to repair his restaurant's image. It's only fair.

  2. Merle’s

    This is typical of the way Dems do business — smear and innuendo. So much for "hope and change"!

  3. re: Merle’s

    @Curmudgeon

    When did politics enter into this?   This has to do with a local business, and its own self-defense againt false charges by the city, and non-partisan political entity.  I don't remember seeing "Vote Wally, Democrat for City Manager," and, though I am new to Evanston, I doubt that Evanston Health Director, Evonda Thomas's, job is an elected democrat position either (or republican), and it was the Health Director who started this:

    “The outcome of the investigation revealed unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both Merle’s BBQ Restaurant and Haven Middle School and it is therefore unlikely that the exact cause of the outbreak will be determined,” said Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas.

    These are hired city officials, not elected city officials, and their political views have nothing to do with the error in judgment (a poorly written and mistimed press release) that may or may not have smeared the name of Merle's BBQ.  I, for one, have not been to Merle's, but am now much more likely to visit, and give my support to a local business.

  4. Merle’s

    This is entirely an unfortunate situation.  With the fresh evidence presented by the accused, it looks like an entirely different picture from earlier accounts.  When all the data is in and the investigation completed, public apologies must be made!

    I recently dined at Merle's and as always, the quality, presentation and experience were excellent.

    What is particularly irksome to me is – when did political affiliation enter into this conversation (and why)? 

    Good Grief!  Respectfully submitted, Brian Becharas

  5. What’s the right thing to do?

    My son was sickened by salmonella after eating at one of two Evanston restaurants last summer.  He required IV hydration at an emergency department. He was quite ill for several days.  After a few days he was better.  We informed both restaurants so that they could look into their food handlers.  The public health department contacted both as well, after receiving the culture results in routine reporting form the hospital labs. 

    We were contacted by the insurance company for one of the restaurants (a national chain) who wanted to know what our plans were, and if there was anything they could do to compensate us for the trouble we had.  I asked if they could reimburse our expenses, that would be fine.  The gentleman seemed incredulous. He explained that usually people who claim food related illness demand to be highly compensated from national chains.  I explained that the main issue was to inform the establishment's that they had a food handler who was improperly handling food, not to sue the company for personal gain.  After a few months, we received a check  covering the ER deductible, the office visit, the medications.  Mistakes happen.  Both places are and were highly reputable eateries and we continue to patronize them regularly. 

    Suing one of our great businesses for hundreds of thousands of dollars, I don't think so!  Smearing the name of a reputable and longstanding business establishment that employs hardworking people there, I don't think so! 

    The litigant and the city owe Merle's a very public apology. 

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