Dante's Down the Hatch closing its doors after 43 years

Dante's Down the Hatch closing its doors after 43 years

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ATLANTA -

An Atlanta institution is closing its doors after four decades. The owner of Dante's Down the Hatch, Dante Stephenson, says the Buckhead landmark has run its course.

The jazz, the pirate ship and the fondue are all part of the one-of-a-kind dining experience at Dante's, but many said it's the owner himself who kept people coming back for 43 years.  

"The restaurant is my wife. The staff are my children and they're both being taken away from me for a high rise," Stephenson said.

Rising taxes have forced Stephenson to sell to developers.

Regulars have been booking reservations for weeks to have one final meal at a favorite place.

"My husband and I came when we were high school sweethearts in 1994," said Corrie Madlem.

Corrie and Mark Madlem celebrated junior and senior prom at the restaurant, and just about every anniversary since. They brought their four girls to say goodbye on Tuesday.

"It's just our special place. It's19 years' worth of special memories now we get to share it with them on the final night," said Corrie Madlem.

One of the things Dante's is most famous for are the live crocodiles that live in its moat.  They are rescues; Dante's is an official crocodile refuge.

The restaurant's closing will wrap up 43 years' worth of memories for longtime customers and especially the man whose name is on the door.

"Money does not replace fulfillment. It never has, it never will," Stephenson said.

Tuesday was the final night the restaurant was open to the public. They will hold a private gathering on Wednesday for longtime regulars and past employees.

Stephenson said that he's entertaining the idea of opening another restaurant somewhere else.

As a parting gift, Stephenson is giving his employees a full year of severance pay.

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