Pizza industry mourns death of Little Caesar's founder

The death of 87-year-old Little Caesar's founder, Mike Ilitch, Friday has hit a lot of people in their hearts over the weekend. He not only grew one of the world's largest pizza chains out of the Detroit mom-and-pop restaurant that he and his wife, Marian, ran but also played in the minor leagues with the Detroit Tigers. He went on to own the team along with the Detroit Red Wings, according to a news release. 

"My father was a once-in-a-generation entrepreneur, visionary and leader, setting the tone for our organization and our family," Ilitch Holdings Inc. President and CEO Christopher Ilitch said of his father, who was also chairman of the company which includes all of the family's holdings, in the release.

"He made such a positive impact in the world of sports, in business and in the community, and we will remember him for his unwavering commitment to his employees, his passion for Detroit, his generosity to others and his devotion to his family and friends. Together my family and the company celebrate the tremendous man he was, and we will continue to work hard to uphold his remarkable legacy. I'm honored to have had the opportunity to work with him to nurture and grow our businesses, but mostly, I'm grateful to have called him my Dad." 

The son of Macedonian immigrants, Ilitch and his wife grew Little Caesar's into the world's largest carryout pizza chain with restaurants in 20 countries and territories throughout the world. Ilitch Holdings provides professional services to the Ilitches' companies and employs 23,000 full-time and part-time employees and posted revenues of $3.4 billion in 2016. 

In response to Ilitch's passing, Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle said, "We are saddened tonight by the loss of Mike Ilitch. He was not only an icon in the restaurant industry and a philanthropist who had a profound impact on the city of Detroit, he was also a worthy adversary. We loved competing against him and his world renowned brand. We send our deepest condolences to the Ilitch family."

Ilitch also had a vision of restoring downtown Detroit to a bustling area and to that end the company is in the process of its District Detroit which will transform dozens of blocks of largely vacant land in downtown Detroit into an area of commerce and public spaces, including office, retail and residential spaces, as well as the new Little Caesars Arena. The $1.2 billion project is expected to have a $2.1 billion total economic impact on Detroit, the region and Michigan.

Ilitch established the Little Caesars Love Kitchen in 1985, with two food trucks circulating to serve more than 3 million people in need. He also founded the Little Caesars Veterans Program in 2006 to give honorably discharged veterans a leg up in opening their own Little Caesars franchises. In fact, since 2005, a news release said that the Ilitches' companies have given more than $35 million in cash and in-kind contributions to organizations and the couple personally gifted nearly $50 million to Detroit's Wayne State University, with $40 million of that going to establish a business school there. 

The Ilitches were married 61 years and had seven children, 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.The family will honor Ilitch at a private funeral service. An opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects is also being planned. Details will be announced as soon as they are finalized. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to either Ilitch Charities or The Detroit Red Wings Foundation.


Topics: Food & Beverage

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