Del Frisco’s steakhouse chain, which Landry’s agreed to
buy in late September for a reported $300 million. Explaining the opportunity, Fertitta says, “It’s a great brand and a
poorly run company.” He will simply roll Del Frisco’s into
his own well-oiled machine.
Fertitta is among the few industry CEOs who have held
every restaurant job and studied every aspect of running a
successful eatery. “You couldn’t go to a restaurant with him
and not be taught a lesson,” says Patrick Fertitta, “either
from a server’s perspective, or the way a dish is prepared, or
how a host or a hostess deals with a wait.” It galls Patrick’s
father that CEOs of publicly traded restaurant companies
couldn’t so much as fold a napkin properly while being
overpaid to underperform in the top job.
Although Fertitta votes for mass over class, his company
won’t run with commodity dining players such as Chili’s,
Olive Garden, and Applebee’s, which spend heavily on
promotions, or “buying the business,” as it’s known. Across
the industry, same-store sales are flat, a function of an
increasing number of restaurants, so competition is
heating up. “There are no spare customers” is a well-known
Tilmanism. At places such as Willie G’s, the wait sta; will
treat you to a well-rehearsed dining experience, from the
obligatory server introduction to the grand tour through the
menu. Just don’t expect any all-you-can-eat shrimp deals.
People who have been with Fertitta the longest will tell
you that his strength isn’t a gambler’s gut instincts but a
mathematician’s rigor in problem solving. He preaches one
message consistently: Know your numbers. Unless you fully
understand how you’re making money or losing it, you have
a hobby, not a business, and you’re likely to fail. “If you don’t
have a financial statement to go on, you’re basically operating out of a cigar box,” he says. “You don’t know shit.” It
seems like fairly prosaic advice, but if other companies had
What the Founders Project has meant to these mentees
+ Great advice on handling big brand partnerships, pushy VCs, and chaotic hiring strategies
; Eliza Blank is the founder of
hipster-chic houseplant startup the Sill.
Her Founders Project mentor isTina
Sharkey, co-founder ofvalues-driven
D2C site Brandless, which hit a $500
millionvaluation in 2018.
I wanted Tina’s advice on strategic
partnerships with large retailers. We’ve
been getting more inbound interest,
and I thought we should go after our
dream match. She explained that
big-box retailers are becoming more
inclined to create their own brands and
that it would be better to partner with
specialty home-goods retailers like
West Elm and Crate & Barrel.
I asked whether I should try to form
; Sheena;Allen is the founder and
relationships with those retailers’ execu-
tives. She said yes, but added that it’s
at least as important to talk to the
merchants and the buyers and develop
small programs with them that are really
big hits. She said if you just go in top-
down, there will be less natural support
and enthusiasm, which I thought was
incredibly wise advice. She challenges me
to think bigger in terms of what I’m
capable of. —Astoldto Leigh Buchanan F R O M
CEO of fintech company CapWay.
In August, she closed a “pre-seed”
round of $840,000. Her mentor is
Jennifer Fitzgerald,;co-founder and
CEO of Policygenius,which has;raised
$52 million;to fuel its;fast-growing;
digital insurance brokerage.
Jennifer knows what it’s like to
navigate a new space and some of
the hiccups there. In particular, I
appreciated her advice on how to
handle investors who don’t know my
business but still want to challenge
me on it—investors who goad me
into spending our entire meeting
The first thing she said was to
stand my ground—to know that I know
my space and that I know my com-
pany—but be mindful of what types of
insights I’m giving away. Some VCs will
pump you for information to take back
to one of their portfolio companies.
She encouraged me to trust my gut in
those situations—and to politely and
professionally end those meetings.
—As told to Maria Aspan
; Stephen Lease is a serial entrepreneur
whose Goodr sunglasses are in more
than 1,500storesworldwide. He’s being
mentored by Morris Miller, veteran CEO
of Xenex Disinfection Systems and
managing partner atTectonicVentures.
One thing I struggled with during
our rapid growth at Goodr was finding
someone I could trust who knows what
I’m going through. Enter Morris Miller.
We officially teamed up for the
Founders Project this year, but I’ve
been using Morris’s advice since we hit
it off at an Inc. event in 2018. Morris
comes from a different industry and
background, so when I’m stuck in a loop,
he advises me from a totally different
For example, Morris recommended
we use a revenue-per-employee model
to gauge if we can afford new staff. It’s
made budgeting and hiring easy and
actually fun, especially considering we’re
hiring 40-plus roles in 2020. Before
Morris, we pretty much just licked a finger
and stuck it in the wind to gauge hiring.
The mentorship has been invaluable.
—As told to James Ledbetter