Bustling about Times Square in New York City, while leaving NASDAQ after the closing bell, “Billion Dollar Buyer” star Tilman Fertitta took the time to speak with Zap2it about his new reality show on CNBC.
The 58-year-old self-made billionaire, CEO and sole owner of Landry’s Inc., opens up about his childhood, what he spent his first millions on, his favorite house (if he can remember all of them) and why audiences may mistake his passion for anger while watching him on TV.
Zap2it: How is it going from a private figure to a recognizable star?
Tilman Fertitta: I do live in the fourth-largest city in the United States [Houston, Tx.] and there I’m about as public as you can be. And because I own the Las Vegas Golden Nugget and Atlantic City Golden Nugget, I’m not unfamiliar with it. But is it on a different scale? Absolutely. I can’t go hide out in L.A. like I used to.
How’s your family’s reaction been?
Ya know, they’ve watched things happen for years. When they were kids, I’ve had presidents, stars, athletes and politicians at the house before, and they love it. It’s fun. Everyone is happy, and they said I didn’t embarrass them last night!
What was your financial situation growing up?
I don’t know what middle class is, but I’d say upper middle class. We lived in a nice home. We took driving trips to California, we didn’t fly the whole family. We stayed at Holiday Inns, not the Hyatt Regency. Now, I like staying at The Four Seasons! But it was normal. My parents weren’t able to say, “Here’s a hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars to start your business.” I did it all on my own.
What was your first splurge?
The first thing I really went out and bought was a penthouse on top of the Hyatt Regency in Beaver Park, Co., and I still own it today. I had the ability to go write out a check for a couple of million dollars, that was back in 1995.
How many homes do you have now?
I have an apartment that I built on top of a new tower that I built in Vegas … I put one in Lake Charles … a ranch [is] three … I have Colorado is four … Galveston is five … Houston is six. I have a beautiful place in New York City, seven … and then I have a 165-foot yacht, so that’s No. 8, which I take everywhere. Oh yeah, my God, and I have a place in Oxford, Miss., nine.
Which home is your favorite?
I love the boat, and I love my place in New York City. It’s in Soho Tribeca and it’s beautiful.
How do you get from house to house?
I have two G-5s and three helicopters. That’s how I get around.
What about your cars?
I own the Bentley Rolls dealesrship in Houston, but I don’t drive one every day. I drive an Escalade.
Did your kids all get Bentleys as their first cars?
Absolutely not. One got a Tahoe. [Two] got pickup trucks. My daughter got a Range Rover Sport. I can’t believe you asked that! My wife [Paige] doesn’t even drive a Bentley. She drives an Audi.
Is there an activity you do that makes people say, ‘Come on, you’re too rich for this?’
When I’m on the road, I don’t want anybody else to press my clothes. I have no problem getting up in the morning and pressing a pair of pants. Don’t ask me to put gasoline in a car, I don’t wanna do that. We all have things we like to do and don’t do.
What’s you favorite drink?
I’m a vodka guy. One hundred percent.
Would make your own line of liquor?
First off, I can’t because I’m a retailer. There’s crazy prohibition laws. I’d love to own a winery, but I’m not allowed to.
Do you watch reality TV?
I’ve never really watched a lot of reality TV. [My show] is a little different. You don’t have any of those crazy things, it’s just the way I am, and there’s a business side to it. I wouldn’t have done a true reality show in which there wasn’t business involved. This was a perfect fit for me.
Will people see you lose your temper?
I lose my temper, yeah, but I try to do it a in a smooth way. I’m dealing with little companies, OK? So, these are not my peers, where I sit across from them and say, “Listen here, you son of a bitch.” I don’t want to bully small companies. These are small companies that need tough love.
Check out Fertitta in full business mode in Zap2it’s exclusive sneak peak of the next “Billion Dollar Buyer.”
“Billion Dollar Buyer” airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.