Signs welcomed Landry’s employees outside the former Willie G’s restaurant on Post Oak Boulevard Wednesday around noon, directing them to stand six-feet apart when entering the building to pick up meals the company has been providing to current and furloughed workers and their families. Retractable dividers were set up under a tent in case a line formed. Employees trickled in and left with bags of take-out boxes filled with cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs and pasta Alfredo with chicken or shrimp.

It wasn’t clear when Tilman Fertitta, billionaire owner of the Houston-based restaurant, casino, hospitality and entertainment empire, made the decision to start offering meals, but one employee, a furloughed forklift operator at a Landry’s warehouse near the 610 Loop, said he’d been coming every day since Saturday.

Employees picking up meals declined to comment or give their names and those running the operation directed inquiries to the company’s public relations firm.

Fertitta, who declined recent interview requests, has furloughed approximately 40,000 employees since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, roughly two-thirds of his workforce. In the Houston and Galveston areas, the company employs about 10,000 people, though it wasn’t immediately known how many have lost their jobs.

Fertitta’s business is getting hit on every front. His restaurants, including Saltgrass Steak House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Rainforest Cafe, Morton’s and Mastro’s, have had to close their dining rooms. His five Golden Nugget casinos have temporarily shut down, and his hotels, including the new $400 million Post Oak Hotel at Uptown next to his corporate headquarters and luxury car dealership, have suffered as business and leisure travel has effectively ground to a halt.

Also on hold is the NBA season. Fertitta owns the Houston Rockets, paid a record $2.2 billion for the team in 2017.

According to Bloomberg, the closures resulting from the pandemic have cost Fertitta about a third of his net worth, now at $3.2 billion, and has placed nearly $5 billion of debt at high risk. Bloomberg first reported the 40,000 temporary layoffs.

Credit-rating agency Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Golden Nugget, Fertitta’s restaurant and casino company, to B3 this week, and the company’s bonds are trading at discounts, Bloomberg reported.

Matt Sodl, president and managing director of Southern California investment bank Innovation Capital, which represents gaming and retail clients, said he expected Fertitta to make it through this crisis.

“He’s got institutional investor support in both the debt and equity markets,” Sodl said in a recent interview. “I’m a believer he’ll come out of it and be on the hunt looking for opportunities because there’s going to be many of them.”

nancy.sarnoff@chron.com

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