Tilman Fertitta Quotes

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You may not recognize the name Steven Schussler, CEO of Schussler Creative Inc., but you are probably familiar with his very popular theme restaurant Rainforest Café. Steve is one of the scrappiest people I know, with countless scrappy stories. He is open and honest about his wins and losses. This story about how he launched Rainforest Café is one of my favorites: Steve first envisioned a tropical-themed family restaurant back in the 1980s, but unfortunately, he couldn’t persuade anyone else to buy into the idea at the time. Not willing to give up easily, he decided to get scrappy and be “all in.” To sell his vision, he transformed his own split-level suburban home into a living, mist-enshrouded rain forest to convince potential investors that the concept was viable. Yes, you read that correctly—he converted his own house into a jungle dwelling complete with rock outcroppings, waterfalls, rivers, and layers of fog and mist that rose from the ground. The jungle included a life-size replica of an elephant near the front door, forty tropical birds in cages, and a live baby baboon named Charlie. Steve shared the following details: Every room, every closet, every hallway of my house was set up as a three-dimensional vignette: an attempt to present my idea of what a rain forest restaurant would look like in actual operation. . . . [I]t took me three years and almost $400,000 to get the house developed to the point where I felt comfortable showing it to potential investors. . . . [S]everal of my neighbors weren’t exactly thrilled to be living near a jungle habitat. . . . On one occasion, Steve received a visit from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They wanted to search the premises for drugs, presuming he may have had an illegal drug lab in his home because of his huge residential electric bill. I imagine they were astonished when they discovered the tropical rain forest filled with jungle creatures. Steve’s plan was beautiful, creative, fun, and scrappy, but the results weren’t coming as quickly as he would have liked. It took all of his resources, and he was running out of time and money to make something happen. (It’s important to note that your scrappy efforts may not generate results immediately.) I asked Steve if he ever thought about quitting, how tight was the money really, and if there was a time factor, and he said, “Yes to all three! Of course I thought about quitting. I was running out of money and time.” Ultimately, Steve’s plan succeeded. After many visits and more than two years later, gaming executive and venture capitalist Lyle Berman bought into the concept and raised the funds necessary to get the Rainforest Café up and running. The Rainforest Café chain became one of the most successful themed restaurants ever created, and continues that way under Landry’s Restaurants and Tilman Fertitta’s leadership. Today, Steve creates restaurant concepts in fantastic warehouses far from his residential neighborhood!
Terri L. Sjodin (Scrappy: A Little Book About Choosing to Play Big)
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