Published News

Les Avenues - January 2002

Melissa Chaviers
Tilman Fertitta - A Builder of Fortune

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His private helicopter had landed minutes before I entered the room; he had just attended the funeral of a dear family friend. Japanese partners from the Rainforest Café were patiently waiting for his attention in the next room. A Livestock Show and Rodeo meeting would fill his afternoon. Stealing a few moments of his time seemed pervasive, but Tilman Fertitta greeted me with a warm, friendly handshake and smiling sanguine eyes. I had his full attention, and he made me feel as though all of his moments were mine.

How does he balance family and projects and his dedication to the community? "It's very hard," he admitted. He laughed and added, "Sometimes I'm not a good board member. I don't make too many meetings… sometimes I can't stay as long at something as I would like to… it's juggling. You just have to manage your time."

And manage he does. Fertitta maintains a chain of 200 restaurants across the country including Landry's Seafood House, Joe's Crab Shack, The Crab House, Aquarium and Willie G's Seafood and Steak House; 28 U.S. and 11 overseas locations of the Rainforest Café; the 30-acre Kemah Boardwalk entertainment complex; a 22-acre beachfront resort consisting of The San Luis Resort, Spa and Conference Center and the Hilton Resort Beachfront Galveston Island; as well as a Rolls-Royce/Bentley automobile dealership.

Fertitta's family roots run deep in the hospitality industry. His grandfather ran Galveston's eminent Balinese Room in the 40's, and his father, in addition to opening several Galveston hotels, ran a surfside restaurant where Tilman acquired basic and fundamental principles of the seafood business. It is business that has been his fascination for as long as he can remember. He recalls working several jobs while in junior high and high school.

"It is kind of funny. I rode with my wife this morning to take the kids to school, and we were driving right down the Katy Freeway. For some reason, I don't know that I had ever pointed it out to them before, but I said, 'Do you see this? It used to be the Red Carpet Inn, but it's the Ramada Inn West right now. I worked there as a desk clerk when I was in High School.' They thought that was fascinating," he shared. "That's where I learned about the hotel business."

His achievements prove that the American dream is still very much alive. "I feel like I have been very successful because of having a dream and going through the steps, A through Z, to make sure that it happens," he said. "When I was very young, I wanted to have a big successful company. So everyday, when I got up in the morning, it was not to go to work and get a paycheck. I was doing what I needed to do to reach the pinnacle of success."

Indeed, Fertitta has reached the pinnacle in the three most significant avenues of his life: business, sports and politics. Reflecting on his achievements, he asked, "If you're in business, what's a better dream than ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange?" It was for his own stock, no less.

When the topic of our conversation was of his interest and involvement with sports, I lightheartedly commented that he might soon run out of fingers. Fertitta has two championship rings from his days as Advisory Director of the Houston Rockets, and is one of the ten limited partners of Bob McNair's NFL expansion team, the Houston Texans. "It would be unbelievable if I had a football championship ring," he beamed. "I would never wear them though - I didn't win them. But they are very nice to have."

From the sports arena to the political arena, Fertitta has much to be proud of. He has been distinguished as a host, having twice entertained a president of the United States in his home. When asked of his possible future involvement in politics, Fertitta noted "I'm too straightforward. To be a politician, you have to be everything to everybody… I've watched many politicians at work. I've been very close to lots of politicians, and it's a very tough life." He also commented on the issue-based campaign of last January against Bobby Moody. "I've had a taste of it. I ran an election… totally ran it… it was a six week campaign that I hit hard and worked every day. But it takes a special person to be a politician."

Be assured, though, that Tilman Fertitta will continue to be a leader in society. "I take pride in being a business leader, a community leader, and a charitable leader," he affirmed.

"I feel very fortunate, and would like to give back even more to the community and to charitable organizations, time wise and financially. I am very happy for what I'm able to do today, but hope to do a lot more in the future." He said fervently, "I get on my knees every night and thank the Lord that I'm able to help other people, and for health and happiness."

Fertitta's endeavors seem to always promote happiness and the enjoyment of life. Currently under construction in downtown Houston, is an aquatic theme-based meeting complex known simply as "The Aquarium." He excitedly explained, "This is not a restaurant. It is a whole aquatic experience on five acres that I think will probably be the number one or number two attraction in Houston, Texas because there has never been anything done like it before." He pointed out that although Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S., there is no public aquarium. He continued describing the $21 million arrangement, "You're going to have a public aquarium, you're going to have the big themed restaurant, you're going to have another casual restaurant, a huge ballroom, a wonderful cocktail lounge, outside gardens and rides that are all being designed specifically for this project."

We can expect to see a 100-foot Ferris wheel resembling a diving belt and a train that will carry passengers through the historical Waterworks building to a shark tank. Conventioneers and tourists will now have an area where they can spend entire days. "There has never been an adventure like this… downtown Houston has always needed an entertainment value project." The facilities are expected to be operational by November 2002.

After spending valuable time with this world-renowned entrepreneur and celebrator of life, I hold fast to his words of justified glory, "It is wonderful to create something that is successful."

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