Hard-charming mogul Tilman Fertitta is becoming TV's most lovable pragmatist.
Tilman Fertitta, photographed in just one of his many Mastro’s locations, is TV’s dreammaker—or breaker; on Billion Dollar Buyer, he offered the deal of a lifetime to leather bag purveyors Jean and Joseph Marcellino of Marcellino New York.
The first season of breakout CNBC reality hit Billion Dollar Buyer has Landry’s, Inc. owner and CEO Tilman Fertitta jetting to New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Austin, and using at least three of his Golden Nugget casinos—in Vegas, Atlantic City, and Lake Charles, Louisiana—as testing grounds for enterprises like artisanal jewelry and self-serve beer taps. “Are you too premature a company to take something on like this?” the real-life self-made billionaire asks more than one budding entrepreneur who, if he takes them on as vendors, could catapult into the big time. Fertitta, whose portfolio of more than 500 properties includes Morton’s The Steakhouse, Rainforest Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumper, Mastro’s, and Chart House, alternates between mentor, pushing the maker of a too-vinegary hot sauce to alter his recipe for the opportunity to sell to Bubba Gump’s (he won’t, and loses the business); and tough-talking businessman, telling the owners of a heated outdoor furniture company who won’t come down in price: “Y’all have gone astray on me. I think you’re drinking too much of your own Kool-Aid.”
“What I’m getting the most out of it is that kids are watching it. It was the number-one show on CNBC for 25-to 54-year-olds but we did well with younger entrepreneurs.” Hours go into getting 42 minutes of show time, and the lesson that emerges, he says, is that “Entrepreneurs need to know their numbers, and viewers want to learn something in real life—not filmed in a studio.”