Culture / Restaurants / Newsy

Houston’s Billionaire Takeover King Strikes Again, Scooping Up a Big Restaurant Chain: Don’t Get Crabby About It

BY // 08.09.17

Going against Tilman Fertitta must leave business tycoons with the same doomed sense that college basketball coaches who tried to beat John Wooden felt all those years.

Fertitta just does not seem to lose. Not when it comes to adding to his business empire. The latest example? The CEO of Landry’s won the rights to Ignite Restaurant Group’s assets — which include the Joe’s Crab Shack and Brick House Tavern + Tap restaurant chains — in a bankruptcy auction this week after Ignite’s leadership did everything but cry that Houston’s most famous billionaire is a big, bad mean bully to prevent it from happening.

The lesson? Maybe take Feritta’s highest bid when he offers one.

For the Houston-based Ignite now sells for $57 million in a bankruptcy court auction, $3 million less than Fertitta first offered for the company back in May. That $57 million edges out the offer from a competing California equity company that Ignite’s leadership preferred. Of course, Fertitta originally sold Joe’s Crab Shack to Ignite for $192 million in 2006.

Now, he gets it back for little more than a fourth of that. And you’re wondering why Tilman Fertitta is a billionaire?

The man knows how to deal. And now he’s adding two more restaurant chains to his ever-growing empire (for now). Fertitta owns more than three dozen well-known restaurant chains, having acquired them and moved their corporate headquarters to Houston under the Landry’s umbrella, including Bubba Gump (formerly of Monterey, California) Chart House (Chicago), Claim Jumper (Newport Beach, California), McCormick & Schmick’s (Portland), Rainforest Café (Minneapolis), Mitchell’s Fish Market (Columbus, Ohio) and Morton’s steakhouses (Chicago). He owns five Golden Nugget casinos and all the restaurants and nightclubs in them. He also owns six other hotels, including the San Luis Resort, Spa and Conference Center in Galveston and the Westin right across the street from Minute Maid Park.

Sometimes, it seems like The Billion Dollar Buyer owns the world — and Fertitta is not done yet. His newest Houston project — The Post Oak, a gleaming new 35-floor high-rise rising on West Loop South, next to Landry’s headquarters building, that includes a ultra high-end hotel, luxury apartments with rents running from $6,000 to $9,000 per month, new restaurants, shops and office space — is one of Fertitta’s most ambitious, high-end and personal projects yet.

Grabbing Joe’s Crab Shack — Again

Joe’s Crab Shack definitely fits Fertitta’s pattern of swooping in to buy a distressed asset that he’s confident his management system can turn around. This is a businessman who’s obsessed with the numbers. Fertitta’s told me how he looks at around 60 emails every morning before he ever gets to the office, looking for the bigger trends within the one-page informational recaps he’s trained his department heads to drill everything down to and deliver.

It’s all about finding an edge. Sometimes — OK, often with Fertitta — that means scooping up an underperforming brand.

Joe’s Crab Shack has seen better days.

This bankruptcy buy still needs to be approved by a federal judge in a court hearing set for Aug. 17 in Houston. When it is, Fertitta plans to sell off the Brick House Tavern brand. Getting Joe’s Crab Shack back drove this particular play.

Fertitta first bought Joe’s Crab Shack in 1994 when it only had one restaurant — and drove much of its growth. (It currently has around 75 restaurants.) The brand still seems to mean something to him. As long as it can also be a good business.

The takeover king is back at it, winning again.

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