The operator is in

Tilman Fertitta is all in. After more than two years of negotiations to take Houston-based Landry’s Restaurants private and become the sole owner of the near-300-unit casual dining, hospitality, gaming and entertainment company, the deal finally got done in early October, 24 years after he was named company president and CEO. Fertitta says his passion is making deals and this was undoubtedly his biggest.

But he wasn’t done — not by a long shot. Within weeks of closing the $1.4 billion transaction, Fertitta proved again that he is one of the top dealmakers in the restaurant business by acquiring both Claim Jumper, a casual-dining chain with locations throughout California, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the 32-unit international restaurant chain inspired by the Oscar-winning 1994 movie “Forrest Gump.” Those moves followed the acquisition of upscale dining chain The Oceanaire Seafood Room earlier in the year. In two of those deals, Fertitta saw promise where others saw struggling properties operating in an industry hit hard by the economic recession. The third was simply Fertitta jumping on a good opportunity, a talent he takes great pride in.

Three acquisitions in one calendar year might seem an overwhelming proposition for most companies, but for those following the 53-year-old, father-of-four, high-profile Houstonian (Fertitta owns 55 restaurants in the Houston-Galveston area alone) and his business dealings, nothing comes as a surprise.

“He’s passionate, creative, accomplished — Tilman is an operator, he operates the hell out of everything he owns,” says Dave Jacquin, managing director of North Point Advisors, a San Francisco mergers-and-acquisitions (M&A) consulting firm that worked with Landry’s during its 2000 acquisition of Rainforest Café for $60 million. Jacquin says the once-struggling chain is probably worth $400 million now.

“He’s gotten very good at buying chains and making them better. And he likes seafood. Seafood is a big space and there’s not a lot of good competition in it,” says Jacquin, adding that North Point is involved with about half of all restaurant industry M&A activities. “Seafood is in his blood; he knows it and understands it and he thinks a lot of people don’t do it well. If you go to a Chart House, you don’t go back to Red Lobster.”

Click here to view the rest of the profile on Fertitta. Written by SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright, the feature appeared in the January issue of SeaFood Business magazine.


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