Dante S. Stephensen
November 17, 1935 – July 26, 2020
Dante Stephensen was born in Chicago, Illinois on November 17,1935 and passed away in Atlanta on July 26, 2020. Dante was the founder and majority owner of two Atlanta landmark restaurants, Dante’s Down the Hatch in Underground Atlanta and Dante’s Down the Hatch in Buckhead. Over his 43-year stint as a restauranteur, Dante created a magical world of jazz, fondue and romance for his patrons, many of whom credit Dante for setting the stage of their engagements, proms, anniversaries, birthdays and other special celebrations. His restaurant had seating on a wharf and on a ship that included live crocodiles in the moat surrounding the ship. Dante was known as the “Mayor of Underground Atlanta” and his restaurant was the last to leave when Underground closed in 1982 and was one of the cornerstone venues when Underground reopened in 1989. He became an expert of wines from around the world and his wine cellar at Dante’s Down the Hatch won numerous awards. Dante was loved and cherished by his employees who became an extension of his family and was admired and respected by his Board of Directors.
Dante had a significant career as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and was a member of the elite Underwater Demolition Team, and later became a member of the very first SEAL team; he was a “Plank Owner” of SEAL Team 2 where he led numerous missions in Cuba and Vietnam. Passionate about preserving the history and honor of Navy SEALS and their predecessor units, Dante was one of the founding members of the Navy Seal Museum in Florida and served as Board Chairman Emeritus. One of Dante’s numerous hobbies was railroads of all kinds. During the summers as a young man, he worked as a “gandy dancer” wielding a heavy mallet as part of a crew replacing and repairing defective railroad tracks, living and traveling with the repair crew in the caboose. Dante purchased and rebuilt a private railroad car, renamed Survivor, which was built by the Woolworth family in 1926. Dante was a member of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Inc., and took numerous trips around the United States and Canada in his train car. When not traveling, the railroad car was parked in a siding in Buckhead and served as Dante’s private residence where he enjoyed the mournful sounds of freight trains passing by.
Dante was very generous and contributed to many charities, including Fernbank Museum, the Seal Team Museum in Florida, Carleton College, the Atlanta Ballet and the African Wild Animals Preservation Group. His primary interest was preservation of the cheetahs in their native habitat. Dante was an active member of Rotary Club of Atlanta. His good humor and participation in Atlanta events as well as his magnetic personality will be sorely missed.
Dante attended North Shore Country Day School for his elementary years, Skokie Junior High School, and New Trier High School in Illinois. At New Trier High School, he wrestled on the varsity team. Dante majored in Geology at Carleton College. He won his varsity letter on their wrestling team and represented Carleton at the Intercollegiate wrestling tournament at Iowa, placing third in the lightweight class. Dante is survived by his older brother David, sister-in-law Lydia, his nephew Gary, his nieces Holly, Valeria and Robin and four great nieces and nephews. Anyone wishing to donate a memorial in Dante’s honor, donations can be made in Dante’s name to the Cheetah Foundation https://cheetah.org/.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Dante S. Stephensen
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July 31, 2020
I was in a bad spot when I applied to work at Dante's Down the Hatch in Buckhead. I was still grieving over the loss of my father, and I didn't know it then, but I was absolutely "lost in the woods".
Lucky me, I got the job.
Lucky because I was able to work for one of the most interesting, passionate, eclectic people I have ever met on this earth.
Lucky because what Dante had created in that fondue restaurant/jazz club/pirate ship/crocodile sanctuary and the crew that worked it became a second home and family for me when I needed it so badly.
Dante, thank you for giving me a second chance to get back on the right path.
Thank you for asking every single one of us to work so hard, and show us that whatever we want in this life, we have to work for it. I couldn't wait for Tuesdays in the dish pit!
Thank you for your service to our country (he was one of the first frogmen, and fiercely patriotic)
Thank you for your love of hosting, your love of music, and for your love of storytelling.
Thank you for the being so gracious with the best Braves front row tickets anyone in Turner Field could ask for. It may seem small to some, but it's just another example of the memories you helped build.
Thank you for the greatest New Year's Eve parties anyone could ask for. (Thanks for not being too mad when I went down the trash chute too)
Thank you for giving me that *SECOND* second chance (some of you other Trons know what I'm talking about, lawds yes)
I'll always be in awe of what you accomplished. Thank you for letting me be a small part of all the magic. I would most certainly not be the man I am today, nor would I be as successful as I am today without you.
You will truly be missed, Captain, Cheers to you, good sir, may you rest in peace.
Becky Black Wheeler
July 30, 2020
Deepest condolences to the family and close friends of Dante. As you know he made us all feel special. I, like many of the people who will post here, worked at The Hatch. May you find comfort in the memories and stories of his life.
July 30, 2020
A toast to you Dante. Down the Hatch for the final time. Rest now old saw!!
Jackie Fields Cordes
July 30, 2020
Hi all. I know we are heartbroken about the loss of our beloved Dante😢
My memories are embedded in my heart ❤️
I loved him. I respected him. I admired him. It was an honor to work with my hatchlings under his command. Dante treated us all like his kids. We were his kids. 😘love you always. Thanks for teaching me to GIVE A DAMN.
Jackie Fields Cordes
July 29, 2020
I became a stockholder in the Hatch while it was in the early stages of construction in Underground Atlanta. A home builder/designer, I was introduced to Dante by a fellow rugby player destined to be his wine and cheese purveyor. I became fascinated by Dante’s plan to recreate a pirate’s galleon in full sail beneath the streets of our city. Unmarried at the time, I enjoyed spending free evenings helping out voluntarily around the kitchen, listening to his lively jazz trio, and sampling occasional uneaten desserts. I even dated one or two of his attractive waitresses. All that came to an end when I met my future wife, but she and I enjoyed staying in touch with Dante, visiting the Hatch in Buckhead, and attending occasional stockholder reunions over the years. He was a unique personality, and in many ways the Hatch was the best investment I have ever made.
July 28, 2020
Dante was a wonderful person; I will always cherish my memories of him. I worked at Dante’s Down the Hatch for six years before moving out of state. It was a memorable experience, primarily due to Dante’s magnificent persona. Dante was kind, trustworthy, empathetic, fair, supportive, generous and a great mentor. I will never forget how incredibly supportive he was of me as a single parent. My kids loved being in his presence and, after growing up, they would visit him at the Hatch.
Dante cultivated a work environment that made me and others feel valued and eager to contribute to the Hatch’s success. Leaving the Hatch did not mean being totally away from it or from Dante. He always made a point to stay in touch and to host celebrations that brought us back. Dante was truly one of a kind.