The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, in partnership with the Georgia World Congress Center and Atlanta Business Chronicle, held the induction ceremony for the 14th Annual Atlanta Hospitality Hall of Fame at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta on November 1. The Hospitality Hall of Fame was created to recognize outstanding individuals who have played a major role in establishing Atlanta as a prominent, world-class meeting and tourism destination. More than 450 of the city’s restaurant, hotel, business and civic leaders gathered to celebrate inductees Mary Rose Taylor (Margaret Mitchell House), Patti Young (Chick-fil-A Bowl), and Dante Stephensen (Dante’s Down The Hatch).

“I am deeply humbled to be added to this illustrious list,” Stephensen says. “I have dedicated myself to creating a unique dining experience at Dante’s Down The Hatch, and to evangelizing about the many wonderful attractions that Atlanta has to offer to both visitors and residents. I’m delighted to be in the company of past inductees like Ted Turner, Panos Karatassos, and Truett Cathy. I am damn proud of this honor."

“Since I opened my first lemonade stand at the age of five, I knew that I wanted to provide a useful service and to make people happy,” Stephensen explains. “But I needed to hone my skills and have a few adventures to figure out how to do that.”

Stephensen has been a Christmas card salesman, school bus driver, dishwasher, ski bum, and worked as a “Gandy Dancer” on the railroads. He traveled the world while he was in the U.S. Navy and helped form one of the first two “Seal” teams. After a stint in California as a computer systems analyst, he relocated to Atlanta to help a friend run a factory making affordable shoes for the poor. But he kept coming back to the idea of starting his own business and for years had been toying with the idea of opening a restaurant. When he heard about Underground Atlanta being formed, he decided the time was right.

Stephensen became acquainted with fondue while skiing in the Swiss Alps, and he wanted to introduce Atlantans to this different kind of dining. Combine that with his love of sailing and live jazz, and you have an incredibly unusual concept for a restaurant. Stephensen created his fantasy of the perfect meal in the perfect setting. Dante’s Down The Hatch is an authentic 18th century sailing ship, complete with private cabins, 13 dining rooms and a spacious open deck. It’s surrounded by a crocodile–filled (yes, it’s filled with real crocs) moat and it’s tied up to an intimate wharf bar. You can hear some of the region’s best live jazz performed by the incredible John Robertson Trio six nights a week, Tuesday through Sunday. There’s really nothing quite like Dante’s Down The Hatch anywhere. That’s why, after 42 years, Stephensen is still excited to go to work every day.

His secret for success is a combination of finding the right staff, providing excellent service, and offering top-notch food. The menu features chemical-free Australian tenderloins, hormone free chicken, and fresh shrimp. Guests can make an advance reservation for chocolate fondue, and a sumptuous array of imported cheeses, homemade breads, and old-fashioned New York style cheesecake are all available. The bar is renowned for serving quality cocktails, choice beers and ales, and 286 different selections of wine.

Over the years Dante’s Down The Hatch has attracted numerous celebrities including President Jimmy Carter, Morgan Freeman, Candice Bergen, Newt Gingrich, Ted Turner, Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight, Isaac Hayes, Deepak Chopra, Kathryn Heigel, Halle Berry, and John Travolta.

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