Published News

Hospitality Design - August 15, 1999

Louis B. Parks
The Industry 20: Leaders in Innovation & Influence - Tilman Fertitta

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It takes a certain amount of flair to label one of your signature concepts "tacky" but that's exactly how the Landry's organization boasts of its biggest chain, Joe's Crab Shack. Perhaps it's the kind of flair that comes from success: Joe's was the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the country last year, leaping from 17 units two years ago to a current 88, with revenues climbing 13 percent in the first quarter of 1999.

And that's only one of the concepts overseen by Tilman J. Fertitta, the expansive, congenial, 41-year old Texan who is president and CEO of Landry's Seafood Restaurant, Inc. Fertitta's Houston-based empire includes not only Joe's, but the flagship restaurant Landry's (41 units), The Crab House (14), Willie G's (3), and his newest, The Aquarium. Built on a test site in the small town of Kemah, Texas. The Aquarium anchors an entire waterfront complex developed by Fertitta's company.

While each of the Landry's concepts boasts its own style, the overriding theme is casual fun. Landry's, for example, has no two units alike, but each features an old-fashioned movie marquee that allows messages to be changed at will. ("Seven Days Without Seafood Makes One Weak," says one.) "I got that idea from an old store in Houston," Fertitta says, "They took over the theater and couldn't afford to take down the marquee, so they used it to advertise. I thought it was a great idea. It's become a tradition for us."

The Crab Houses strive for a New England nautical feel, with exterior and interior designs reminiscent of an Atlantic seaboard lighthouse. And with Joe's, the fun runs riot. "An embarrassment to any neighborhood," boasts a sign fronting one Joe's restaurant where interiors include newspaper-covered tables, picnic benches, funky signs, and whatever other colorful artifacts Fertitta's in-house design team has been able to find. "In the old days, I'd go to the junkyard to find the stuff myself," he says. "Now I have suppliers all over the country."

But it's The Aquarium that's drawing current gasps over concept and décor. Dominated by a 50,000 gallon, floor to ceiling aquarium housing more than 100 species of tropical fish, the restaurant features a second aquarium (this one 20,000 gallons) and showcases daily feedings. Business has been brisk since The Aquarium opened last year.

"The public wants a lot of design when they dine out today," says Fertitta. "'Eatertainment' created that demand. You can have great food, but if you have a blah interior, you're not gonna be successful."

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