Tilman Fertitta: Landry’s Owner, a Man For All Houston (and Beyond)

by Shelley Seale in Fall 2017
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Tilman Fertitta has been a busy man lately. The Houston business mogul, billionaire and television personality was dealing with hurricanes and rockets in the same week.

As the chairman, CEO and sole owner of Landry’s, Inc. — one of the largest hospitality corporations in the country — Fertitta was quick to respond when Hurricane Harvey struck Texas on August 25, causing massive flooding and untold destruction across Houston, the coastline and beyond. With more than 10,000 employees in Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi and surrounding areas, Fertitta set up a relief fund for his team and their families, that he personally seeded with $1 million. He also set about coordinating food drops for area residents affected by the hurricane, and first responders.

A week later, it was announced that Fertitta reached an agreement to buy his hometown basketball team, the Houston Rockets. The $2.2 billion sale price broke the NBA record sale of $2 billion from when the Clippers were sold to Steve Ballmer, according to the Houston Chronicle. The sports fan said it has always been a dream of his to own an NBA team.

“I am truly honored to have been chosen as the next owner of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said of the deal. “This is a lifelong dream come true. Leslie Alexander has been one of the best owners in all of sports, and I thank him immensely for this opportunity. He has the heart of a champion. …I am overwhelmed with emotion to have this opportunity in my beloved city of Houston.”

Texan by birth, hailing from Galveston, the 60-year-old Fertitta is part of an Italian family whose ancestors emigrated from Sicily a few generations back. He got his start in the restaurant business at an early age; his father owned a seafood restaurant on Galveston Island, and it was young Fertitta’s after-school job to peel shrimp.

He studied business administration and hospitality management at Texas Tech University and the University of Houston. His first major project was the Key Largo Hotel in Galveston, and in 1980 he opened the first Landry’s Seafood restaurant, with a partner, in Katy. A year later, the partners opened the more upscale Willie G’s Seafood & Steaks in Houston.

By 1986, Fertitta had gained controlling interests of both restaurants and became their sole owner in 1988. The Landry’s Inc. empire was born when he took the company public in 1993 and began growing quickly, adding concept after concept.

As Chairman, CEO and sole owner of Landry’s, Inc., Tilman Fertitta’s newest venture is perhaps one of his most ambitious: The Post Oak at Uptown Houston, the first mixed-use high-rise tower in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy Fertitta Entertainment

Twenty years later, Fertitta Entertainment, Inc. owned and operated more than 500 restaurant, entertainment and hospitality locations in 34 states. Its hotels include the Golden Nugget Casinos, The Westin Houston Downtown, Holiday Inn On the Beach, Hilton Galveston Island Resort and San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center in Galveston; while the well-known restaurant chains include McCormick & Schmick’s, Rainforest Cafe, Saltgrass Steak House and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.

They are also a big player in the entertainment and gaming destination business, operating such iconic venues as the Historic Pleasure Pier in Galveston, The Kemah Boardwalk, Downtown Aquarium Denver and Houston, and the Tower of Americas in San Antonio — all of which regularly show up on the Forbes, Travel Channel or USA Today’s top five lists of attractions.

Under Fertitta’s leadership, the company is recognized as a world leader in the dining, hospitality, entertainment and gaming industries with revenues and assets of over $3.4 billion.

Landry’s is one of the country’s largest employers, with more than 60,000 employees; and uniquely, with such a large model, it operates all of its locations and doesn’t license or franchise any of its domestic units.

Fertitta is so passionate about what he does that he created a television show to share his insights — “Billion Dollar Buyer.” The show is set to launch its third season on CNBC in 2018 (filming was underway during the writing of this article), with the premise of introducing promising companies around the country to one of its most successful entrepreneurs.

In each episode, Fertitta spends time with two different small businesses, getting to know the owners and their products. After sharing his expertise and suggestions for improvements, Fertitta decides whether to do business with one of the companies, both, or neither. When one of these company contestants is chosen, it can transform not only the business, but also the owners’ lives.

“Numbers don’t lie,” Fertitta said of his decisions. “I don’t have fear if I have looked at my numbers. There is capital out there, but be smart enough to realize you’ve got to have something special.”

Fertitta says that God gave him a gift for understanding business, and he aims to share that, along with wisdom from his expertise and experience, with others.

“I know that I can’t play a musical instrument. I know that I can’t change an oil filter on a car,” he told CNBC’s Marguerite Ward. “But you can bring me any kind of business issue or problem, and I will detect it and tell you what the problem is and the solution within a few minutes.”

Fertitta’s newest venture is perhaps one of the most ambitious: the first mixed-use high-rise tower in Houston.

The Post Oak at Uptown Houston is nearing completion at 1600 West Loop South, and will feature a 700,000 square-foot, 38-floor tower situated on 10 acres. The elite high-rise will feature two fine dining restaurants, including the Landry’s brands Mastro’s and Willie G’s, five luxury retail stores and a private Bentley and Rolls Royce showroom.

The Post Oak at Uptown Houston is nearing completion at 1600 West Loop South, and will feature a 700,000 square-foot, 38-floor tower situated on 10 acres. The tower contains the Post Oak Hotel and 20 residential units. Photo courtesy Fertitta Entertainment

The sophisticated residential space at The Post Oak will consist of 20 residential units of one to two thousand square feet each, and 250 hotel guest rooms and suites — including a 1,500 square-foot Post Oak Suite and the ultimate 5,000 square-foot Presidential Suite, that comes with its own private elevator. Workspace will also be part of the development, with 11 floors of boutique office space, and 35,000 square feet of event space with several ballrooms and conference rooms.

Of course, the amenities list is just what would be expected to go along with such a groundbreaking concept: a helicopter pad, two-story spa and salon, state-of-the-art workout facility, fabulously landscaped pool and outdoor spaces with private cabanas and a fire pit, and a members-only VIP lounge. And everywhere, stunning views of the Houston skyline.

“The Post Oak will serve as a luxury destination for guests, businesses, and residents,” Fertitta said. “I am excited about creating Houston’s finest hotel, most unique service-oriented office space, exclusive luxury residential apartments, and once again, some of Houston’s best restaurants.” The Post Oak’s proximity to his corporate office has allowed Fertitta and his executive team to be intimately involved in the planning and development of the 10-acre site.

The Post Oak is scheduled to debut in early 2018, when the striking entry plaza will greet guests with a grand chandelier, extravagant artwork and a plush living area with exquisite custom furnishings. 

The entire complex was designed to be awash in greenery, mature oak trees and tranquil water fountains; all of which can be enjoyed while walking through the many thoroughfares through the trees, or dining al fresco at one of the many outdoor patios.

Gensler Design was responsible for the master planning, architecture and interior design of the project. The firm is known for working with clients to create more livable cities, smarter workplaces and more engaging leisure destinations. Lisa Pope-Westerman, Gensler Design Director and Principal, shared her thoughts on what makes The Post Oak spaces so extraordinary.

“The design has timeless, classic features accented with modern furnishings, finishes and lighting that will make it really special. From the moment people enter the space, everything will be focused on providing an exceptional experience,” explained Pope-Westerman.  “A dramatic, two-story chandelier cascades down and provides views of the pool.  The Post Oak will be a treat for the eyes and a full immersion into luxury and comfort.”

Jorge Gonzalez has been named General Manager for The Post Oak, and the seasoned veteran — bringing more than 30 years of experience, including opening the first luxury hotel in Miami — should bring a dynamic that will serve the development well.

“Jorge is a proven leader, delivering high standards of excellence and expertise in the hospitality industry, which are important attributes,” Fertitta said. “I am confident he is the perfect fit for this position and know that he will maximize the property’s potential for success.”

As The Post Oak opens for business and Fertitta Entertainment acquires new business dealings, the future is sure to bring more success to the man at its helm. In the end, Fertitta says, passion is everything.

“You’ve got to do whatever it takes to be successful.” – Tilman Fertitta