The gambling might be gone from two Atlantic City casinos built by President-elect Donald Trump, but two restaurants connected with them are hoping to stick around.
Although the Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza are now shuttered and dark, each has a surviving destination restaurant trying to stay afloat without the casinos that once kept customers streaming through the doors.
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In the glass-half-full world of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, these restaurants represent a rare bright spot for a city that continues to watch its casino industry contract. Since 2014, five of the 12 casinos have gone out of business, most recently the Taj Mahal, which closed Oct. 10. About 14,000 workers have lost their jobs in the shutdowns.
Jim Allen, CEO of Hard Rock International, promises he'll keep the Hard Rock Cafe at the Taj open, saving 107 jobs in circumstances that might prompt other employers to cut staff.
"We made a decision that we're going to try to save those jobs and keep those individuals able to support themselves and their families," he told The Associated Press. "I will be candid: We certainly aren't going to be profitable. We know this is an expense we're going to incur to appreciate the employees that have been with us for 20 years."
Todd McCann, the Hard Rock Cafe's general manager in Atlantic City, said business has been slower since the casino closed last month.
"There's a lot less foot traffic," he said. "We're facing more of a challenge now."
Managers at the Rainforest Cafe referred inquiries to the chain's parent company, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Allen, whose career started with a job at Bally's in Atlantic City in 1979, said the Hard Rock at the Taj has a lease that runs for several more years, with options to extend it. And, he added, owner Carl Icahn has given the place a break on rent now that the casino is shut.
That means Atlantic City customers of the chain with the world's largest worldwide collection of rock 'n' roll memorabilia will continue to be able to look up at Van Halen singer David Lee Roth's wall-mounted pants, see former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley's 1975 tour jumpsuit and examine the violin used to play a solo on "Don't Pass Me By" on the Beatles' white album.
Guitars from artists including Def Leppard, Slash and The Ramones adorn walls and ceilings, and a neon sign near the bar warns: "No drugs or nuclear weapons allowed inside."
Customers were few at the Rainforest Cafe on a November weekday night in what traditionally is a slow post-summer, pre-holiday period; the animatronic elephants and giant butterflies moved to and fro regardless of the empty tables, as curtains of man-made rain descended from the ceiling.
Trump, the Republican who will take office in January, built both casinos as part of an Atlantic City empire that once included a third gambling hall, Trump Marina, which was sold and now operates as the Golden Nugget. The decision to close Trump Plaza was made in 2014, about five years after Trump cut most ties with Trump Entertainment Resorts, having relinquished ownership of the company in a previous bankruptcy.
And Icahn, Trump's friend and fellow billionaire, acquired Trump Entertainment from bankruptcy court in March, wiping out the last 10 percent interest that Donald Trump held in the company, which was largely in return for use of the Trump name.
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