The Tycoon Life
How Tilman Fertitta made $1 billion (not by being Mr. Nice Guy)
“Who else would let me put an animatronic dinosaur on top of a live shark tank in the middle of a restaurant?” Rainforest Cafe founder Steven Schussler asks Forbes, and the answer could only be one person: Tilman Fertitta.
Fertitta made his debut on the Forbes list of the world's billionaires for the first time in 2012, and in the September 10th issue the magazine takes a closer look at the man who turned a Galveston hotel (built when he was 23) and a couple of seafood restaurants into a nationwide food empire, making Fertitta what Forbes terms "the richest restaurateur in the world."
It's about more than no-holds-barred aggression. Fertitta's obsession with cost control helped the company stay lean during the recession.
Spoiler alert: He didn't do it by being nice. Or, in Fertitta's words, "I do whatever the fuck I want."
Forbes calls Fertitta ruthless and controlling and quotes Schussler again, who described him as "a brash, arrogant, bargain-basement, bottom-feeding acquisition nemesis" in a recent book. (And this is from someone whose current projects are being bankrolled by the guy.)
Yet Fertitta's success is about more than no-holds-barred aggression. Forbes notes that Fertitta's obsession with cost control helped the company stay lean during the recession.
He's noted for being "famously patient in waiting for the privilege to pay bottom dollar," snapping up restaurant chains from bankruptcy or the brink thereof. Since he took the company private in 2010, Landry's has acquired The Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City, Oceanaire Seafood Room, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumpers, Morton's and McCormick & Schmick's, of which he tells Forbes "I had never done a hostile [takeover] before. I wanted to see what it was like . . .
"It wasn’t painful for me. Was painful for them."
One part of Fertitta's business that Forbes doesn't talk up? The food, which is dubbed "mediocre" and never mentioned again.
But hey, when you've got an animatronic T-Rex on top of a live shark cage, does it matter?