Customers at the Upstairs Café at Evanston’s Central Street Metra station have launched an email and telephone campaign to persuade Union Pacific Railroad to let them stay in business.

The popular eatery that serves as much as a community information exchange as it does a site to purchase coffee and freshly baked scones before boarding a train downtown, has been told by the railroad to relinquish their space by the end of April.

The business is owned and operated by three Evanston mothers—Gail Doeff, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Shelley Patterson—who take turns serving customers and talking to them about community affairs.

Shelley Patterson serving customers Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning, Evanston Now found them in conversation with mayoral candidate Steve Hagerty, who, along with Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle, is trying to help them stay in business.

“I think it is very shortsighted of Union Pacific to terminate the lease of a business that provides a service so valued by the commuters,” said Ald. Revelle when contacted by Evanston Now.


For the past 20 years, Doeff said, the city has leased the space for a dollar a year and has subleased it to the three women, who took over the space from Mary Lou Smith, owner of Top of the Tracks, when she retired in October of 2012.

Their current problem arose when the city’s 20-year lease expired last year and corporate officials at the railway assumed control, the women said.

Two of the three owners are on duty every morning during the work week on a rotating basis to serve riders from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m., with coffee and baked goods among their most popular products.

They say it is hard to imagine a business better suited for that space and were surprised that the railroad did not at least make them an offer.

They are hoping their customers will send emails to UP’s assistant vice president for public affairs, Liisa Stark, at, and put in a good word for them.

Update at 1:45 p.m.:

A company spokesperson, responding to an inquiry, said “we are currently in the process of identifying the best and most effective use of the space at Central Street Station. 
We remain in close contact with the occupant of the space to ensure a smooth transition.”

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

Join the Conversation


  1. Upstairs Cafe

    Ms Stark. I hope you will reconsider and allow Upstairs Cafe to remain in their space. It provides a valuable service to the commuters and would be a great loss to terminate their lease. Thank you for your attention. Val

  2. Upstairs Cafe

    I, too, have contacted Liisa to encourage UP to reconsider this decision. It saddens me to think this sweet littel spot will be shuttered. 

  3. Bad News for Commuters

    This is bad news for commuters and the entrepreneurs who serve their daily commuters.

    The Upstairs Cafe enterprise ensures that the waiting room is open during foul weather providing warmth, shelter, a good cup of joe and some tasty treats to their patrons and even non! I hope a solution can be found!

    We want to encourage amenities like the Cafe to make rapid transit more attractive and reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in our community.

    Perhaps we should lobby Metra’s Board to push the right buttons at Union Pacific. One of their board members, Mr. John Plante lives in Wilmette, please see link below:

    Respectfully submitted,

    Brian G. Becharas

  4. Cups

    I am all for keeping a coffee shop at Central station. Can we please also get a petition going to get Upstair Cafe, if it remains, to stop using styrofoam cups exclusively? This is so environmentally offensive. It’s 2017! Where can you even buy styrofoam?!  No one should buy coffee there without bringing their own cup.

  5. Metra coffee shop at Central
    Did anyone ever take it over since the shop pushed out in 2017 ?
    Did Metra force out [rent or other] coffee shops at Davis or Main ?

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