Mary Godleski  /  AP
Vincent and Clare Sabatini pose for a photo in the dining room of their restaurant in Atlantic City, N.J., Nov. 16. The Sabatinis fought back when the state tried to seize their small Italian restaurant on behalf of casino mogul Donald Trump in 1997, earning a measure of celebrity when 'Doonesbury' author Garry Trudeau took up their case in his comic strip.
updated 11/26/2005 7:12:08 PM ET 2005-11-27T00:12:08

Eight years after battling with The Donald over his development plans, the owners of a small mom-and-pop restaurant near Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino are cashing in their chips.

The owners of Sabatini’s Restaurant agreed to sell their small brick building to Trump’s casino company next month and retire after 40 years. Though Trump and the owners wouldn’t divulge specific terms of the deal, Vincent Sabatini said it is worth more than $2 million.

“The time is right,” said a bittersweet Clare Sabatini, 73. “It’s right for us, and it’s right for Mr. Trump. We’re happy and they’re happy.”

Trump set his sights on the property in 1997 when he was looking to expand Trump Plaza. His problem was that the restaurant, a cash-for-gold store and a former boarding house wouldn’t sell.

Trump got the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to begin condemnation proceedings against all three, justifying the move as an attempt to add hotel rooms to support the new Atlantic City Convention Center. Clare Sabatini said CRDA representatives told her she would be handcuffed and taken out of her restaurant if she didn’t sell.

“This is America!” says Vincent Sabatini, 75, recalling the battle during a break from his kitchen on a recent Wednesday night. “How can they put me out of business? How could they just take my deed from me?”

Publicity about the struggle caught the attention of author Gary Trudeau, who highlighted it in a week’s worth of “Doonesbury” comic strips in February 1997, depicting Trump in one strip as wondering “how to get these yo-yos to fold and get out.”

The following year, a judge threw out the eminent domain claims against all three properties, saying Trump, not the public, would be the primary beneficiary.

Talks between the Sabatinis and Trump resumed this year after Trump Entertainment emerged from its Chapter 11 bankruptcy with a $500 million line of credit and a mandate to update and modernize its three casinos. Company officials still want to buy out the former boarding house and cash-for-gold store, but haven’t released their plans for the block.

“Mrs. Sabatini is a wonderful lady and I’m glad we finally made a deal,” Trump said through a spokeswoman.

The Sabatinis plan to say ciao with a party at the restaurant in early December. They will take down the decorative dishes, plaques and framed newspaper articles that adorn the walls, and donate their restaurant equipment to a church soup kitchen.

Sabatini — who calls his wife of 52 years “the boss” — will hang up his white apron. But not before he cooks one last time.

“I’ll be in the kitchen. No tux for me,” he said.

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