Culture / Entertainment

Billionaire Bonus — Tilman Fertitta Throws a Serious Twist Into Galveston Mardi Gras After $50 Million Palm Play

Collectable Rockets Hats Join the Party, Become More Valuable Than Beads

BY // 02.23.20

Billionaires celebrate differently than the rest of us, too. One day after Tilman Fertitta revealed a $50 million stalking horse bid for the storied Palm steakhouse chain — one that will likely leave him as the eventual owner of the bankrupt brand — he was in Galveston to lead the Mardi Gras festivities he’s turned into a major event.

Of course, Fertitta always looks to improve things. So while everyone else obsessed over beads, Fertitta introduced special limited edition Houston Rockets collectables to the float flinging party.

Rockets Mardi Gras hats — 3,000 of them in all — were thrown into the crowds lining the route of the Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade on Saturday evening.

And you thought getting some plastic beads was a big deal?

These Rockets Mardi Gras hats are not gaudy or showy. There are nothing like the New Orleans Pelicans’ Mardi Gras uniforms for instance. Houston’s “party” hats are classic black hats with the Rockets logo on front and Mardi Gras 2020 on the back in red stitching.

Sometimes simple works. The fact there are only 3,000 of these hats ensure they’ll be distinctive — and coveted by the folks who collect these type of things.

This is the first of what’s set to become a new tradition. The Rockets Mardi Gras hats will return with a new design every year.

Fertitta himself collects bigger prizes — like well-known restaurant brands mired in hard times that he’s sure he can lift out of the muck. The Palm certainly qualifies on this front. With the company’s owners Bruce Bozzi and Walter Ganzi — grandkids of the original founders of The Palm — fighting their cousins in court over undercollected royalties and the operation in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, this is a restaurant brand in serious distress and doubt.

Fertitta’s stalking horse bid means that if no one else steps up to pay more than $50 million for The Palm in a March 9 bankruptcy auction, the brand’s rights and 21 current restaurants will be his. Just something else for the empire.

Of course, Tilman Fertitta’s Landry’s restaurant land already includes Del Frisco’s and Restaurant Unlimited’s 16 brands (both acquired late last year), fellow steakhouses Mastro’s, Morton’s, Saltgrass and Chart House and more than 70 different concepts in all.

The king of all restaurant kings is always ready to add something else to mix.

Book launch event for Tilman Fertitta’s new book Shut Up and Listen!
Tilman Fertitta at his Catch Steak restaurant in Manhattan’s meatpacking district.

But Galveston Mardi Gras matters immensely to him too — on a more personal level. This is the city where Tilman’s father Vic Fertitta owned a restaurant, the city where he really got his start in business. Galveston Mardi Gras growing into a bigger and bigger deal — to the point where the yearly economic impact of the festival has tripled in the last 15 years — means plenty to Fertitta.

Once he became the owner of the Houston Rockets, it was just a matter of time before the team jumped into the Mardi Gras mania. Beads are great. Collector item hats are better.

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