Faces of the NHL lockout: No game-day rushes at restaurants, just layoffs

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Joe Kasel, co-owner of the Eagle Street Grille, worked the lunch crowd.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Joe Kasel, who owns Eagle Street Grille with business partner Kevin Geisen, wrote a letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Nov. 28 that was copied to NHL Players' Association Executive Director Don Fehr.

"I had to look 32 of 48 employees in the eyes" and lay them off, Kasel wrote. Wild games account for 50 percent of Eagle Street's gross revenue, Kasel says.

"They don't understand, you're not just affecting your bottom line," Kasel said. "The trickle-down effect of the hundreds of thousands of people that are being killed by this, financially, is astronomical."

Added Geisen: "The highest levels of government should get involved because they're impacting the national economy. It goes so deep."

Eagle Street Grille sits kitty- corner to Xcel Energy Center. Kasel, 40, and Geisen, 39, opened the restaurant 10 years ago. It has grown from 1,400 square feet to 6,000 with front and backyard patios. This is their second lockout: last time, they laid off 12 of 16 employees.

"One of the hardest things you have to do is call somebody that is doing a great job and let them down," Geisen said.

Meg Hyland, 39, has survived the layoffs but has seen her hours, and thus her income, cut in half. Two of her three kids play hockey, and after having trouble affording one league, Hyland has moved them into a recreational league that's half the price.

"Hockey is a luxury, but my big concern is food, rent, bills, being able to get to work," Hyland said. "This makes a big difference in what I can and can't do [for my kids], especially around the holidays. Certainly there are no vacations that are going to happen this next spring."

The day shift at Eagle Street typically now consists of Kasel and Geisen, who bartend, wait and bus tables, even cook.

Kasel reads every lockout update. Geisen ignores them, saying, "My feelings aren't going to impact the results, so what I try to do is keep my head down and work through it."

Both are Wild corporate sponsors and season-ticket holders. They are fed up.

"I just want the thing done," Kasel said. "They're absolutely destroying the sport of hockey, which I love to death. I mean three lockouts in 18 years? Come on, figure it out."

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