By: LaSalle Blanks, News 8 Reporter
BRISTOL, Conn. (WTNH) — The layoffs inside ESPN had ripple effects all across the city it calls home — especially across the street.
Many businesses count on ESPN to help their bottom lines — that includes the folks at Luiza’s Diner and Family Restaurant. Avdulla Zhuta opened his restaurant 13 years ago specifically because of its proximity to the worldwide leader in sports and it’s paid off for him. He says it isn’t a surprise to see the gang from Sports Center or other ESPN personalities and pro sports guests walk in.
He has so many pictures that he created a “wall of fame” inside. One of his favorite pictures is one autographed by former Chicago Bears Head Coach, Mike Ditka, a football studio analyst for ESPN.
“He’s a great person. They’re all great people, every single one of them,” Zhuta said.
Zhuta also has a picture with race car legend Richard Petty who walked into his restaurant one day with some ESPN folks. He also has pictures with several ESPN personalities in his cell phone, which he’s always proud to show off.
“People when they want to ask me who comes in your restaurant and I show them — they’re shocked to see that,” he said. “It’s amazing. It really is amazing.”
He has other customers who are not on TV and not ESPN employees. On this day, the layoffs across the street dominated their lunchtime discussion.
“Anytime (there’s) a layoff — people losing their jobs — it’s a tough situation,” said Jake Fernandez, an ESPN viewer.
It’s also tough because ESPN has become an economic engine for Bristol and some people worry the layoffs will bruise Bristol businesses.
“It’s not good because Bristol has lost a lot of business and industry,” said Michael Hooks, a Bristol resident. “And a lot of people out of work and you always hope that more things come to Bristol and now you’ve got people getting laid off. It’s not good for us, you know?”
Then there’s the emotional toll. ESPN is so big and means so much to Bristol that it’s one of those companies many people have some sort of connection to.
“I’ve got a lot of friends that tell me they’re getting laid off so — it’s sad to see that,” Zhuta said.
Zhuta says about 35 percent of his business comes from ESPN. He hopes to be able to add more pictures to his wall and his cell phone in the future. He also hopes the layoffs don’t deliver a knockout punch to his profits.