Tilman Fertitta, the World’s Richest Restaurateur, is a bright Houstonian, successful businessman, entrepreneur, and, now, star of the reality show Billion Dollar Buyer. His net worth positions him as one of the wealthiest Americans today, according to Forbes.
We had the unique opportunity to sit and visit with him. Considering he has just finished four months of filming for the second season of his popular TV show, he didn’t want to see anything resembling a camera, yet, he was gracious enough to spend some time with us -and our cameras-.
Tilman Fertitta is not just the “Billion Dollar Buyer,” but he is also the genius mind behind one of the world’s fastest growing empires. The key to his consistent financial growth is rooted in positioning his business to be relatively unaffected by economic downturns. He believes when the economy is looking up, people often tend to forget that it doesn’t always last; and at the same time, when money matters are looking doubtful, people tend to forget they will eventually improve. He has always been a cyclical player, building or acquiring new real estate, even when the time doesn’t seem to be the right one.
During the 10-year real estate recession, from 1986 to 1996, he took advantage of the economic situation, purchasing prime properties for less. Once the economy bounced back, he was ahead of the game. He believes that a strong business strategy is to invest even when the market is down.
Born in Galveston, he is the sole owner, chairman and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment, Inc., which owns both the restaurant giant Landry’s, Inc. and the Golden Nugget Casinos, and is recognized today as a world leader in the dining, hospitality, entertainment and gaming industries.
The Company today has revenues over $3.4 billion and assets of more than $3.5 billion. Landry’s operates more than 500 properties in 34 states and owns a number of international locations. It is also one of the country’s largest employers, with more than 60,000 employees. Landry’s owns and operates more than 50 different restaurant brands, including McCormick & Schmick’s, Chart House, Landry’s Seafood, Rainforest Cafe, Saltgrass Steak House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Claim Jumper, Mitchells Fish Market and many more award-winning concepts. Landry’s Signature Group of restaurants includes some of the world’s premier fine dining concepts, like Mastro’s Steakhouse and Ocean Club, Morton’s The Steakhouse, The Oceanaire, Vic & Anthony’s, Brenner’s Steakhouse, Grotto, La Griglia and Willie G’s, just to name a few. What is further unique about Landry’s is that it operates all of its locations and doesn’t license or franchise any of its domestic units.
The company also owns and operates numerous gaming, hospitality and entertainment venues, including the iconic Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino brand, with 5 locations throughout the United States, including Las Vegas, Nevada; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Laughlin, Nevada; Biloxi, Mississippi and Lake Charles, Louisiana. In the Houston/Galveston area, Tilman operates the award winning San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, The Westin Houston Downtown and several other award-winning regional hotels. The Company’s entertainment destinations include the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, The Kemah Boardwalk, Downtown Aquarium Denver and Houston and Tower of Americas in San Antonio, which are all featured on the Forbes, Travel Channel or USA Today’s top five lists of attractions.
Tilman will be opening an all-new Grotto restaurant in Downtown Houston, specially tailored to the niche downtown marke.
Tilman believes in the importance of giving back to the community and devotes a substantial amount of time to civic service and charitable organizations. He currently serves as Chairman of the Houston Children’s Charity, the Houston Police Foundation, and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Regents University of Houston. He also is on the Executive Committee of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, one of the Nation’s largest charitable organizations. He also serves on the boards of the Texas Heart Institute, and Greater Houston Partnership.
He and his wife Paige live in Houston with their four children, ranging in ages from 17 to 23; he anticipates his children will eventually be involved in different areas of his company. He believes their young minds will bring a fresh insight to his work, as well as learning his business savvy.
He is always looking for the next great idea. And this upcoming year will see the inauguration of ten new Saltgrass Steak House restaurants, three to four new Mastro’s, and a 350-room tower expansion at the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Also, he recently purchased a Manhattan-based franchise, that will add 15 restaurants to the six he already owns in the area, making him the largest restaurant operator in Manhattan. He also owns 40 properties all over the world, from the Middle East, to Asia and the South Pacific.
An influential business figure, Tilman has been frequently featured in the nation’s top financial and industry publications. He is a frequent guest of prominent national business programs on networks like CNBC and Fox Business News. He is one of the foremost authorities in the restaurant, gaming entertainment and hospitality industries.
Tilman also stars in CNBC’s Billion Dollar Buyer, currently entering its second season. His successful show has him visiting cities such as Miami, Naples, Fort Lauderdale, New York City, San Antonio and Los Angeles. At each location, he visits and evaluates a small, locally-owned business to determine if it can live up to the expectations of the Landry’s Inc. image, and the “Billion Dollar Buyer” himself. New episodes air Tuesdays on CNBC. Definitely a show you don’t want to miss.
Tilman’s many personal honors include: Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Ernst & Young and induction into the Texas Business Hall of Fame as the second-youngest inductee. In 2012, he was named Amusement Today’s Person of the Year, and in 2013, he was named Casino Journal’s Executive of the Year and one of restaurant news top executive almost yearly. Tilman debuted on Forbes 400 list in 2012 and is referred to as “‘the world’s richest restaurateur.“
His hottest project of the moment is The Post Oak, soon to be Houston’s most exclusive destination. The complex will contain a 5-fixture-bath hotel (the first in Houston and the most luxurious), residential units, 150,000 square feet of office space, four restaurants and two to three retail locations. His luxury dealership, that represents the Rolls-Royce and Bentley brands, will also gain an additional showroom in the main building. This fabulous project will take Houston’s hotel industry to the next level. The Post Oak will boast the biggest ballroom available in the Galleria area, and will offer a variety of luxury services such as: a Bentley and Rolls-Royce vehicle concierge, 24-hour room service, and a helipad with one of Tilman’s three helicopters on stand-by, just in case a guest is running late to the airport or an appointment. He anticipates The Post Oak to bring in even more tourism to the Houston area, and we are certain he’s right. We were given a sneak peek at a surprise for the complex, which we were asked not to reveal in this article. Although we are dying to divulge, we know this one addition alone will make The Post Oak a sensational attraction for affluent locals and tourists alike.
Tilman’s motto for business is to “understand that this is a changing world, and you need to stay on top for every new opportunity that arises. If you slow down, you will get run over, so you can’t slow down.” His final note for us is some advice for new entrepreneurs: “Complete knowledge of the business is a must and should be there, not only on the sales side but on the financial, marketing and operational sides also. And let go of fear, and do not worry about failure.”
Photography by Alexander Rogers and Gary Maltz.