Dante's Down the Hatch auctions off everything inside

6:12 PM, Sep 21, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Even if you've never heard of the place, there are several ways to see why Saturday's auction at Dante's Down the Hatch was a little out of the ordinary.  

First, there are the numbers: 500 people bidding on 600 items from ten different countries online and in person.  Second, there are the prices: hundreds for fondue pots, even $4100 for a hand-carved sign.

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"This auction is unique in that everyone has a sentimental attachment to the items in this building," said Auction gallery owner Robert Ahlers of Ahlers and Ogletree.  "They're buying more on emotion than on fair market value."

Dante's Down the Hatch operated as a jazz club and fondue restaurant in Atlanta for 43 years.  In that time they were visited by everyone from former presidents to Mickey Mantle.  Owner Dante Stephenson is a former Navy Seal, and kept his employees motivated by sharing restaurant profits with everyone from his managers down to the dish washers.  That kept them around for awhile. 

"When we sit down at our weekly manager meetings with Dante, there are 180 years of Dante's Down the Hatch experience at that table," said manager Mark Harris. 

And because they stayed for decades, the restaurant became their home. 

"It's kind of heartbreaking," Harris said of painfully watching the auction.  "I've read the first twenty chapters of this book, this is the final chapter."

Stephenson said he was forced to sell the business after property taxes went through the roof.  He said he is mulling over "at least eighteen" different options of what to do next.  But he isn't sharing yet. 

And he said he still has second thoughts about getting out now. 

"I'll have second thoughts the rest of my life, I have no choice here, we're being forced to sell," Stephenson said.  "I just wish all my Atlantans very well, thanks for coming in and making my life worthwhile in this great city."

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