When you're sitting on the patio outside Willie G's Seafood & Steaks, watching the uniquely Denver action along the 16th Street Mall and enjoying a happy-hour cocktail and a big slice of chocolate cake from Cake Bubbles in Lakewood, it's easy to forget that you're sitting in a link of a Texas-based chain.
After all, this address was an early mainstay on the mall, back in the days when it housed Doc Weed's. In 1997, Landry's turned it into Willie G's -- a link in a chain that the Landry brothers started back in 1981.
There are only three Willie G locations today, but the Landry's empire, which is now headed by Tilman J. Fertitta, is much, much larger than that. Fertitta has apparently been busy as hell conquering the restaurant world since the mid-1980s, scooping up chains like hors d'oeuvres and turning most of them into golden cash cows.
And Feritta owns a fat chunk of restaurant real estate here in Colorado. In addition to Willie G's, there's the Aquarium Restaurant, which Landry's bought when Colorado's Ocean Journey dried up; Bubba Gump Seafood & Shrimp Co downtown (there's also a location in Breckenridge): the Chart House in Golden; Landry's Seafood in Englewood (one in the northern 'burbs closed last year); Saltgrass Steak House spots in Westminster and Parker (there's also one in Colorado Springs); Simms Steakhouse in Golden and Oceanaire Seafood Room downtown.
Late last year, Fertitta also added the McCormick & Schick's restaurants to his portfolio, taking over McCormick's Fish House & Bar in LoDo and McCormick and Schmick's Seafood & Steak in the Denver Tech Center. And he bought the Morton's The Steakhouse chain, closing a Tech Center restaurant but keeping the Morton's in LoDo.
Landry's also owns the Rainforest Cafe, among other ventures, but Denver lost its Rainforest when it closed in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center in 2001.
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By our count, Fertitta owns an even dozen restaurants in metro Denver. And Willie G's, at least, is worth a visit -- especially at happy hour, when I recently visited it for this week's review, which will be posted here later today.