The last fondue was served Wednesday night. It was served with laughter and, yes, tears.
“I was in tears, by myself,” owner Dante Stephensen said when I asked him about locking the doors for a final time. “It was not a good feeling.”
The grand finale was bittersweet for the octogenarian. Before the night ended, Stephensen got to spend a last glorious evening with friends and former employees.
“We had record crowds. A lot of people spoke. I spoke. It was very touching,” Stephensen said. “Everyone was very cordial and very friendly.”
The question everyone kept asking was, “What next?” Stephensen told me that he still has a lot of irons in the fire. He could build a place at another location. He could teach. He could travel. Anything is still possible.
As loyal patrons and former co-workers shared stories about their past experiences at their beloved establishment, Stephensen made his rounds, greeting the crowd who had come to pay their final respects. With an unmistakable laugh, a quick wit and perfect comic timing, Stephensen is the ultimate restaurateur. People came to see him as much as they did to eat fondue in a ship, see alligators or listen to live jazz.
Dante Stephensen was the attraction. For 43 years, he was why they came. And he was why he they came Wednesday night.