Local Spotlight

Tilman Fertitta an "Executive to Watch" in 2011

Houston's Tilman Fertitta made a short list of restaurant executives to watch in 2011, in part because of his recent acquisition of a trio of new restaurant chains: The Oceanaire, Claim Jumper and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

The list, compiled by Nation's Restaurant News, focuses on execs like Fertitta in part because of their ability to "offer a compelling mix of craveable menu items, value-driven price points and unique branding" in an industry that's constantly looking to tighten its belt. I suppose "value-driven price points" and "unique branding" are more charitable phrases than we would have used to describe Fertitta's concept restaurants like Rainforest Cafe or Joe's Crab Shack (now sold).

Either way, NRN praises Fertitta for being able to revive lagging brands and hopes that he'll be able to do the same for Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Claim Jumper, both of which should fit into the Landry's corporation's wheelhouse quite well.

What NRN didn't mention, interestingly enough, is something of far greater interest to Houstonians: the fact that Fertitta's sights are stubbornly set on Galveston's shores in a move to make the island a hybrid of the overwrought Kemah Boardwalk and the Maceo-run Galveston of the Jazz Era, complete with gambling but without Sinatra or Duke Ellington playing at night.

Fertitta, who recently took Landry's private after several years of work, has been somewhat quietly pushing for card rooms -- a legal form of gambling -- in Galveston, starting with the San Luis Hotel (which Fertitta also owns). And, of course, there are the plans -- announced a few months ago -- for Fertitta and company to rebuild the Flagship Hotel as an amusement park-style destination. We had our own suggestions for rides, which Landry's has oddly ignored so far.

Speculation as to whether this will ultimately be a good thing for the island varies depending on who you're talking to. Regardless, it's something that I imagine far more Houstonians will be following as opposed to Claim Jumper's brand renovation. It's Fertitta's business interests in Galveston that truly make him a restaurant executive to watch in 2011, for better or worse.

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Katharine Shilcutt