Tilman Fertitta On What It Takes To Build An Award-Winning Five-Diamond Hotel & How To Become A Billionaire

Tilman FertittaPhoto Credit: Julie Soffer

He’s used to seeing dollar signs and golden nuggets, but thanks to a big-budget new business venture, Tilman Fertitta is now dealing in diamonds—five of them, to be exact.

Launching his first true luxury hotel, the lavish Post Oak at Uptown Houston was a calculated gamble that paid off. Within six months of its March opening date, the property joined an elite crew of only 89 hotels in America to score a prestigious AAA Five Diamond distinction.

“We have exceeded expectations,” the 62-year-old businessman states. “It has become a preferred Houston destination for high-profile celebrities and public figures, world travelers and even for staycations.”

When you’re often referred to as ‘The man with the Midas touch’ and your superlative is ‘The world’s richest restaurateur’, success is not so much a concern as it is an expectation. But unlike the 600-plus venues Fertitta owns and operates across 36 states and in over 15 countries around the world, this was home and, therefore, this was personal.

Tilman FertittaPhoto Credit: Julie Soffer

Fertitta was born and raised in Houston, attended the University of Houston and started his first restaurant—Landry’s Seafood—in Katy, one of the city’s suburbs. It is also where he raised his family (a daughter, Blayne, and three sons, Michael, Patrick and Blake, with wife of 28 years, Paige) and where, to this day, he runs the 43-year-old parent company, Fertitta Entertainment, valued at over $4.5 billion.

He has always been firmly tied to the city and, as such, was the perfect person to implement its growth as a hub for upscale travelers.
“I’ve traveled the world, seeing the finest hotels. Houston is my hometown and [so] people would ask me where to stay… and I never had a good answer. There was nothing comparable to a five-star quality hotel [here]. Houston needed a hotel like this, and I wanted to be the one to deliver it. Now, I am proud to say that the Post Oak Hotel is not only the best in Houston, but is truly one of the best hotels in America.”

Its rapid rise to hotel royalty has certainly helped bring attention to Houston. The accolades keep rolling in—a Forbes Five-Star spa award here, a distinction as one of 35 properties in the nation to join the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Legends Collection there. And the cherry on top: the only Houston hotel with that AAA Five-Diamond rating. In fact, the only other Texan properties to make the cut include San Antonio’s Hotel Emma and The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas.

Tilman FertittaPhoto Credit: Julie Soffer

Fertitta has worked for it, though. With an ‘If you build it, they will come’ mentality, he set to work making the Post Oak his own personal field of dreams. Construction began on the $350-million property in 2015 and it opened three years later. In the interim, he was completely hands-on, making every decision designed for an optimal hotel stay experience—including pillowcases monogrammed with guests’ initials.

“I knew I wanted everything in this hotel to be of the highest quality,” Fertitta acknowledges. “You can see the level of luxury when you walk into the lobby [and see] custom Calcutta marble flooring, Ebony Woodridge stone pillars, custom fabric wall panels [with abstract images of falling leaves, inspired by the hotel’s name] and a hand-tufted silk abstract rug—all surrounded by works of art from Frank Stella.” He adds, “I have a three-story cascading chandelier laced with more than 16,000 Swarovski crystals in the lobby [inspired by the Dubai Opera House]. It will take your breath away.”

The same can be said of the hotel’s art collection. A plethora of museum-quality modern American art from Fertitta’s personal archives are on display throughout its public spaces and hallways. “I spent millions for the artwork alone,” he confides. These pieces include—in addition to Frank Stella—works from Robert Motherwell, Alex Katz, Donald Sultan, Joseph Glasco, Friedel Dzubas and Howard Hodgkin, as well as commissioned furniture pieces.

This type of opulence and elegance can be found everywhere, from its old Hollywood-style pool areas (accented in black and white and highlighted by a fire pit, plus five private cabanas sheltered by palm trees) to its Grand Ballroom—a glittering, 16,000 square-foot space featuring a 28-foot-tall recessed ceiling with 12 ring-shaped chandeliers, each with 1,317 cut crystal prisms. There is a Rolls-Royce showroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and a sensational stainless steel and glass spiral staircase, a Bentley and Bugatti dealership and a luxury boutique, 29° North (featuring exclusive labels such as Stubbs + Wooton, Carner, Globe-Trotter and Magglia Francesco, all of which have made their Texas debut at the Post Oak).

The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston
This gorgeous spiral staircase connects the hotel to the two- oor Rolls-Royce showroom and Bentley and Bugatti dealership

Photo Credit: The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston

Its spa, an elaborate 20,000 square-foot urban oasis, has already earned a rare Forbes Five-Star distinction for its amenities as much as for its services. Guests are treated to tranquility pools with body-contouring hot stone daybeds, aromatherapy-infused steam rooms, detoxifying high-temperature and low-humidity saunas, multi-sensory thermal showers, and quiet lounges with anti-gravity chairs, among other things. Treatments on offer come courtesy of high-end brands such as the Parisian Cinq Mondes and Swiss facialist Jacqueline Piotaz.

And that doesn’t even cover the culinary offerings. All dining outlets fall under Fertitta’s own Landry’s, Inc. umbrella—from upscale steakhouse Mastro’s, longtime Texan favorite Willie G’s Seafood, and healthy eatery Bloom & Bee, to casual eatery Craft F&B, the Paris-inspired Bouchée Patisserie, and the club-like cocktail lounge H Bar.

It is also home to Wine Spectator’s Grand Award winner Mastro’s, as well as The Cellar, which carries over 3,000 labels spanning centuries (some vintages date back to the 19th century). “Just like the rest of the hotel, I wanted our wine program to be the best in Houston,” he notes. “We have a wine collection that houses more than $3.5 million worth of inventory from nearly 23 countries. I made sure we carried [wine from] the very best, most sought-after wineries from around the globe.” 

The beauty of the Post Oak is that—under Fertitta’s direction—even the most basic stay feels opulent. “Our standard room is 500 square feet with a five-fixture bathroom and three televisions. There is nothing cookie-cutter about this hotel,” he says.

The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston
For $12,000 per night, guests will have use of a private elevator leading to the hotel’s helipad, an in-suite fitness center, a butler’s pantry and more in the 5,000 square-foot Presidential Suite.

Photo Credit: The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston

And he’s right. Each of the 250 guest rooms and suites feels like a private pied-à-Terre. All are equipped with white marble bathrooms, Acqua Di Parma amenities, 500 thread-count Egyptian cotton bed linens, in-room Technogym and tablets equipped with state-of-the-art technology. There are even beds, bowls, and a luxury dining menu that includes filet mignon for high-end guests’ best four-legged friends. What’s more, transportation within a two-mile radius via the house Rolls-Royce or Bentley is complimentary.

Basically, every guest will get to feel a little more chic under the Post Oak’s shimmering veil of opulence—which means, naturally, it’s like a second home for stars. “We offer luxury experiences and amenities you can’t find anywhere else,” Fertitta states. “We’ve had raving reviews from visiting dignitaries and celebrities who have stayed in our Presidential Suite. Our VIPs have appreciated the private elevator access from [the] parking garage or heliport to the suite.”

At 5,000 square feet and $12,000 per night, it is one of the largest—and most expensive—in Houston. It features two bedrooms with a private office, a fitness room with Technogym equipment, a massage table for in-room spa treatments, a dining room, and a 400- square-foot terrace with panoramic views of the Houston skyline. There are 10 TVs, 5,000 square feet of marble, mahogany wall paneling and 11 chandeliers. A 24-hour butler service is also available.

But why shouldn’t the hotel cater to affluent guests? In Fertitta’s humble opinion, the city as a whole is ready for a little more luxury action. “Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country. We have guests from all over the world. I thought it was important to incorporate a design that had an international flair and would appeal to our global travelers.”

Tilman FertittaPhoto Credit: Julie Soffer

He continues, “Houston is the nation’s fourth-largest economy, providing one of the youngest, fastest-growing, most talented and diverse populations anywhere in the world. This city is ever-expanding in arts and culture and building a powerhouse culinary scene. Houston is flourishing and becoming a prime target for tourism.”

Although the Post Oak is his latest and greatest project in the luxury space, it’s by no means his first attempt to designate Houston as a tourism hub. He’s been doing this all along, slowly but surely, over the course of his nearly 40-year career, starting with his first purchase of a restaurant in 1980 to his most expensive one: his $2.2 billion buyout of the Houston Rockets in 2017.

In the time between his start and the present, he has built an empire of over 50 different restaurant brands and award-winning casinos, hotels, and entertainment concepts. The list is seemingly endless—including eateries like Morton’s The Steakhouse, The Oceanaire, Vic & Anthony’s, Grotto, Atlantic Grill, Chart House and Landry’s Seafood House (just to name a few), as well as the Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel brand, the iGaming operation GoldenNuggetCasino.com, the San Luis Resort and the Westin Houston Downtown hotels. It also includes entertainment destinations like the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, The Kemah Boardwalk, Downtown Aquarium Denver and Houston, and the Tower of The Americas in San Antonio.

Additionally, Fertitta owns 50 percent of Catch, one of the hottest spots in Los Angeles and New York, and its sister restaurant Catch Steak, which opened this month. 

The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston
VIPs are the only guests that have access to this high-end Concierge Lounge.

Photo Credit: The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston

Of all his numerous achievements—each and every restaurant purchased, his CNBC TV show Billion Dollar Buyer (now in its third season), and his September 17 book release, Shut Up and Listen! from HarperCollins—there is one that stands out from the rest. This, of course, is the one that made headlines: his unprecedented, record-breaking, single-handed acquisition of the Houston Rockets, now making him the NBA team’s sole owner. Like most things he does, it was a ballsy move—and it paid off.

“[Buying the Rockets] was pretty special. I’ve always wanted to own a professional sports team and, when this opportunity came up, I was not going to get beat on this deal,” he declares.

Besides his own box, he can buy and sell players like an average kid trades playing cards. And he has unprecedented access to some of the best guys in the league, like Russell Westbrook, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Kenneth Faried and, of course, James Harden. Of his all-star, Fertitta says, “James and I have a great relationship and we have one thing for sure in common—we both like to win. There’s a reason why James won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player last year. He averages 30 points a game. Anyone in the league will tell you that’s impressive.” He adds,

“Our goal remains the same every year: to bring a national title to the city of Houston.”

While the team and hotel are his primary focuses at the moment, Fertitta is never one to stop wheeling, dealing, strategizing or buying. He is always on the go. He can’t stop, won’t stop (the fact that his preferred methods of transportation get him from point A to point B quickly—namely, his helicopter, $40 million yacht he calls ‘The Boardwalk’, and G5 private jet—should say it all).

The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston
The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston

Photo Credit: The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston

“Right now, I am enjoying the success of this hotel, but I’m always looking for the next opportunity… I’m always looking for the next smart deal… always doing the right thing and building the next generation of entrepreneurs in my family.”

It’s all work and no play, but that doesn’t make Tilman Fertitta a dull man—it just makes him a wealthy one. “I don’t have hobbies. I don’t play golf on the weekends,” he says. “My sport is business, and I enjoy doing it every day.”

ShutUpandListenBookCoverHighRes
‘Shut Up and Listen’ Book Cover

Photo Credit: Shut Up and Listen Book Cover

TILMAN TELLS ALL

ON ADVICE HE’D GIVE TO A BURGEONING ENTREPRENEUR:

“Read my book Shut Up and Listen! I created this global hospitality empire 30 years ago with just one restaurant, so I know first-hand the challenges that face small business owners and the common pitfalls that cause them to fail. My book gives straightforward, powerful strategies and knowledgeable insight to those trying to grow their business.”

ON THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON HE’S LEARNED OVER THE COURSE OF HIS CAREER:

“I know what I know, but I also know what I don’t know. Most of my senior executives have worked with me for more than 20 years. I look to them when they know more than I do. I trust their judgment and, if they think I am making a mistake, I will listen.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS DEFINED YOUR CAREER?

“Focus.”

HOW IMPORTANT HAS IT BEEN TO KEEP YOUR FAMILY GROUNDED? WHAT VALUES HAVE YOU INSTILLED IN YOUR KIDS?

“Don’t get me wrong: my kids grew up with nice things, but they always knew the value of a dollar. I’ve worked hard for everything I have, and I want my kids to have the same mindset.”

 

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