Dante’s Deal on Hold

43-year-old restaurant may not close after all
Dante Stephensen

In November 2012, word got out that Dante Stephensen, owner of Dante’s Down the Hatch—an eclectic fondue restaurant and jazz club with a 43-year history—had agreed to sell Dante’s to Atlantic Realty Partners, who planned to tear down the building and replace it with a luxury apartment tower. Now, Stephensen says the deal is on hold and the Buckhead restaurant will not be closing March 31 as planned.

Stephensen says the mid-January real estate closing with Atlantic Realty Partners didn’t happen, and as of January 19, he was no longer under contract with them. However, other interested parties have popped up, and he’s currently talking to someone who wants to purchase the land but may not want to redevelop it for some time. In that case, Stephensen says he hopes he could sell the land and pay rent to the new owner, thus enabling him to keep the restaurant open for another five to 10 years.

“I’m not ready to retire, but if the price gets high enough, I can’t afford not to,” Stephensen says. “I owe that much to the stockholders.”

He explains that his main objective is to be able to take care of his staff, many of whom have worked at Dante’s for more than 25 years. He attributes their loyalty to his profit-sharing plans and the memories created at the restaurant.

“This place is fun. It allows you to get your mind off whatever’s bothering you,” he says of the space, which is designed to look like a ship, complete with a wharf, lighthouse, and live crocodiles.

Even if Stephensen does end up selling, he plans on having a big anniversary party for his employees (both current and former) on April 9, and a closing party for the public in the future. He says he’d like to auction off everything in the restaurant, from the fondue pots to the witch in the women’s restroom, in order to allow Dante’s live on in Atlantans’ homes forever. The crocodile, however, would be donated to Zoo Atlanta.