Fast food enthusiasts and sports fans alike are mourning the passing of Mike llitch. The 87-year-old died Feb. 10. in his beloved home town of Detroit — he is survived by his wife, seven children and numerous grandchildren. Here’s 5 things to know about the late sports mogul and Little Caesars Pizza restauranteur.
1) He was Detroit-loyal to the core
Mike Ilitch was born in 1929, to Macedonian immigrant parents, Sotir and Sultana Ilitch in Detroit, Michigan. With the exception of a four year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps that took him traveling overseas, the businessman lived, loved and worked pretty much his whole life in the big D. Mike was deeply attached to his home town, and over the years gave back massively to the Renaissance City — spearheading many of the crumbling port town’s redevelopment efforts, in addition to buying up the then-struggling local sports team, The Detroit Red Wings and The Detroit Tigers.
2) He was no stranger to the pitch
Upon returning home following his Marine Corps stint, Mike was offered a contract to play baseball for The Detroit Tigers, with a signing fee of $5,000. It was the start of a four-year-long minor league career, playing mainly second-base, which sadly ended in 1955, following a knee injury.
3) Always giving back
Mike was majorly into philanthropy, and really believed in giving back to those in need. With that in mind, he started various charitable offshoots from his mega-successful Little Caesars pizza chain. In 1985, he launched Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a meals on wheels operation to help feed those in need and to facilitate food distribution following national disasters. In 2006, Mike went on to start the Little Caesars Veterans Program, which offers honorably discharged veterans the chance to take their own bite of the pizza pie, by way of owning a Little Caesars restaurant franchise.
4) Turning pizza into one heck of a lot of dough
Mike started the Little Caesers pizza chain in 1959 with just one small restaurant initially, located in a strip mall in Garden City, Michigan. Mike and his wife, Marian Ilitch, funded their new business venture with the $10,000 he had saved up during his time playing in the little league. By 1962 Mike and Marian had sold their first restaurant franchise — which grew to over 200 franchises in the next 18 years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the chain had expanded to around 400 stores and the Ilitch’s personal fortune had swollen to a cool $630 million. Mike went on to become one of the top 400 wealthiest people in the USA.
5) And sports into gold
Mike’s first sports purchase was in 1982, when he bought the struggling Detroit Red Wings hockey club for $8 million. After investing heavily in the team, the Red Wings quickly started seeing a huge surge in ticket sales, and within 5 years, they were regularly winning championships — they even got the chance to compete for the prestigious Stanley Cup. The team subsequently won the coveted trophy in both 1997 and 1998. By the mid-1990s, The Red Wings, along with its associated franchises, was valued at a staggering $200 million. With one sporting success under his belt, Mike went on to purchase another local team, the Detroit Tigers. He paid $85 million in cash to buy the baseball team from rival business mogul Tom Monaghan, in 1993. And, despite some early hiccups, which resulted in making a substantial loss, Mike finally managed to strike gold yet again. And the rest, as they say, is sports history.
HollywoodLifers, you can leave your condolences for Mike’s family, and share memories of your favorite Red Wings and Tigers best moments, in the comments below.