Tell your family that you want to open a restaurant and you’ll be hit with criticism – restaurant owners can’t grow professionally, restaurants come with variable income and long hours and so on. If at all profitable, restaurant margins are thin and it’s unlikely that restaurateurs will ever earn enough to retire.
That being said, these five restaurateurs not only ignored the naysayers in their lives but they excelled at being restaurant owners and have created huge net worths for themselves. Here are the five richest restaurateurs:
Emeril Lagasse ($50 million)
Emeril Lagasse wanted to be a chef at a young age. In high school, he was enrolled in a culinary arts program and despite being accepted into other university programs, he followed his dream of studying cooking instead.
After graduating from university, Lagasse moved first to France and then to New Orleans, where he still lives today. He worked as an Executive Chef at the Commander’s Palace, which is still listed as one of New Orleans’ Best Restaurants.
Soon, it was time for Lagasse to branch out on his own. He opened his first restaurant, Emeril’s, in 1990 and has since opened 11 others. In 1992, he began appearing on cooking TV shows and by 1996 he had his own show. It was from this show that Lagasse became famous for his catchphrase “BAM.” Lagasse also developed a series of kitchenware and food products, the rights of which were sold to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) in 2008 for $50 million in cash and shares.
Gordon Ramsay ($127 million)
Gordon Ramsay is the loudest chef on TV. With 25 restaurants and a string of TV shows, millions of people in the United States and in Ramsay's native United Kingdom know his voice and his management style.
In 1993, after studying hotel management and then training with top chefs, Ramsay opened his first restaurant named Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. This restaurant went on to win three Michelin stars, and today his restaurants boast a total of seven Michelin stars while he himself has won a multitude of awards.
Between the restaurants and his television shows, Ramsay's 2015 income was estimated at an impressive $60 million.
Paul Bocuse ($185 million)
Paul Bocuse is THE chef among chefs. Not only has he taught some of the best chefs in the world, but his name is attached to one of the most prestigious culinary awards in the world, he’s been named the Chef of the Century and the Culinary Institute of America has renamed their restaurant in his honor.
Between his cooking academy, his cookbooks, his restaurants and his hotel, Bocuse has amassed a fortune of almost $200 million in his lifetime.
Jamie Oliver ($372 million)
Jamie Oliver, like Gordon Ramsay, is most famously known for his cooking shows. Aside from his Naked Chef appearances on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Oliver is a spokesman for healthy eating, having started a campaign called Feed Me Better and his own charitable foundation.
Oliver's estimated $372-million fortune comes from his various business ventures which include 40 plus restaurants, 16 cookbooks, multiple TV shows, an app, kitchenware, and being a spokesman for both a Canadian and an Australian grocery chain.
Tilman Fertitta ($2.8 billion)
Tilman Fertitta is the only non-chef on this list. As a businessman, Fertitta specializes in buying distressed restaurant businesses and turning them into mega-profitable eateries by slashing costs and increasing efficiency. After going public with his company Landry’s in 1993, Fertitta reversed that in 2010 by repurchasing all the outstanding shares and making the company private once again.
Landry’s started as a single restaurant co-founded by Fertitta in 1980 and has grown immensely. Today the company owns 63 brands, over 500 restaurants and a handful of hotels and casinos across the country.
The Bottom Line
An average American opening a restaurant will result in large credit card bills and sleepless nights. An amazing chef or amazing businessperson, however, can take that same restaurant and make it into something special. There’s no easy way to get rich in the restaurant business—you either make great food that people flock to eat or your restaurant will stay empty.