“I‘m betting on y’all. Please deliver,” Tilman Fertitta says when placing an order with a small sauce company that’s dreaming big. This is destined to become the tag line of Fertitta’s new Billion Dollar Buyer CNBC reality TV show, but it’s hardly the only memorable line the Houston billionaire delivers.
It doesn’t take long into a Billion Dollar Buyer episode to realize that Fertitta is something of a modern day Yogi Berra. Only his memorable lines make sense. Fertitta frequently uses his precise, interesting and sometimes biting lines to drive home business points. The show makes it easy to see why a wiffle-waffling businessman might dread negotiating with Fertitta. This is a guy who cuts through BS with the force of an old-school Ginsu knife.
“I’m like the fine print you sign on a contract,” Fertitta barks when presented with a supposedly combined label prototype from the sauce company that reduces his Bubba Shrimp Co. logo to a tiny circle. Still, my favorite line of the first episode has to be Fertitta’s response to a foodie trying to tell him how to test eat the sauce. “Shut up and let me figure it out,” he says.
Fertitta seems to figure everything out — quickly. If Donald Trump‘s once ultra-successful The Apprentice is about that unique Donald Bluster, Fertitta’s new show is about his heightened business sense. The cameras show how the restaurant/casino/amusement park/real estate tycoon almost instantly identifies a start-up business’ main problem. One taste of the Bravado Spice sauces has Fertitta calling out the product’s excessive vinegar content — a complaint later reinforced by professional chef tastings. Spider-Man’s senses aren’t this honed.
The Landry’s CEO is just as fast in picking up on the real issue limiting Macaron by Patisse, the other Houston company vying for Tilman’s buy in the first episode. Fertitta marvels (and not in a good way) at how much money the young couple (Mohammed and Sukaina Rajani) running the business have poured into a commissary and a new Woodlands storefront designed to look like a high-end jewelry store.
“Sukaina has champagne tastes on a cookie budget,” Fertitta observes later. This is not uttered in a mocking way, but rather a near regretful tone. For it foreshadows why the Billion Dollar Buyer will not buy from Macaron by Patisse at the end of the episode.
At its heart, this is a business show. That’s why it is on CNBC rather than a more over-the-top reality TV franchise maker such as Bravo. That’s why The Wall Street Journal gave Fertitta’s show a favorable review. Fertitta comes across as being genuinely obsessed with business. He knows why they work. He knows why they fail. And he’s willing to share the knowledge with would-be future tycoons.
Billion Dollar Buyer provides some looks at a billionaire’s life: Tilman doing work while flying across the country in his otherwise empty private plane; Tilman zipping right over Houston’s traffic jams in his own helicopter. But it never hits Donald Trump levels of excess. Fertitta gets chauffeured around in a Cadillac Escalade rather than a stretch limousine. Heck, he wears ordinary black T-shirts under his sports jackets. This is no stuffed suit.
The Galveston kid turned Houston tycoon gives plenty of love to the Bayou City during it all. Texas Avenue, the “We Love Houston” sign and 8th Wonder Brewery all receive ample screen time. Even The Eatsie Boys’ food truck gets a nice cameo.
Tilman Fertitta held a first episode viewing party at Mastro’s Steakhouse, his New York City restaurant. (CNBC wanted him in New York to help promote the show nationally.) Still, the show makes it clear, Fertitta’s heart remains in Texas.
His best lines will travel anywhere, though.
“Friday night at 6? I’m never doing anything,” Fertitta deadpans when Sukaina Rajani asks him to attend their Woodlands store’s grand opening.
He still goes though. This Houston billionaire always keeps his schedule open for business.