Michael and Marian Ilitch opened a small pizza restaurant in suburban Detroit in 1959. Investing the fledging enterprise with their life savings, they also poured into it large amounts of time and patience. They created a simple and appealing menu that families, especially those with young children, could afford. A keen eye for detail and a hands-on management style helped them carve a place for themselves in the restaurant business. The restaurant flourished and Little Caesars Pizza was born.
Today, Little Caesars is one of the top three international pizza chains with restaurants in all 50 states and 17 international markets. The success of the company has opened many doors for the Ilitches. However, the lifelong Detroiters have committed themselves to business ventures in their own back yard.
Their purchase of the Detroit Red Wings Hockey Club in 1982, and their subsequent purchase of Olympia Entertainment, Inc., the management company for Joe Louis and Cobo Arenas, reinforced their interest in the city of Detroit. Through the tireless efforts of the Ilitches, their family and exceptional staff, they have transformed the once struggling Red Wings into a profitable and competitive enterprise. After winning 16 divisional championships, six President’s Trophies (for the season best record among all NHL teams), six Campbell Bowls and four Stanley Cups, Detroit is now passionately known as “Hockeytown” and is the envy of all cities where hockey is played. The Red Wings have played post-season hockey for 24 consecutive years – the most in all of current professional sports - and Financial World Magazine consistently ranks the Detroit hockey club as one of the most valuable franchises in the National Hockey League.
Buoyed by the challenges and successes of doing business in downtown Detroit, they took a chance on the historic but neglected Fox Theatre when they purchased it in July 1987. They painstakingly restored the 5,000-seat theatre built in 1928 to its original splendor and reopened its doors in November 1988. Although many thought it was impossible to revive business in the theatre district, the Fox has been a great success and is consistently one of the top-grossing theatres of its size in the country. The Fox Theatre continues to attract record crowds for a mix of concerts, theatre and family shows.
In addition, the Ilitches commissioned a dramatic renovation of the adjacent 10-story office building in 1989, relocated its suburban office staff, and established a world headquarters for their pizza company in the transformed office building. Since then, the theatre district has seen a rebirth marked by the opening of other restored theatres and new restaurants, and the building of two side-by-side stadiums for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions.
Hard work and good fortune came together for Mike Ilitch when he purchased the Detroit Tigers baseball team in August 1992. Ilitch, who once played for the team’s farm system, said the purchase was a dream come true. In 2006 and 2012, the Tigers captured the American League pennant, and from 2011-2014, they won consecutive Central Division championships.
In May 1996, Olympia Development, L.L.C., was created to focus on projects in downtown Detroit. One of the highlight projects the real estate and development company has achieved already has further enhanced the city’s Urban Entertainment District. The $295 million Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers, opened on April 11, 2000 in downtown Detroit’s Theatre District and paved the way for the Detroit Lions stadium, Ford Field, which opened August 2002.
Today, Olympia Development is executing the vision of the District Detroit, the most ambitious development project in the organization’s history. The District Detroit – a world-class sports and entertainment district – will transform dozens of blocks of underutilized land, connect Midtown to Downtown Detroit and deliver an expected $1.8 billion economic impact to the city, region and state.
In 1999, Marian Ilitch invested in MotorCity Casino in Detoit, Michigan and became its sole owner in April 2005. In 2008, MotorCity completed a $300 million expansion project adding a new luxury hotel, spa, conference center, several restaurants, a 1,800 seat theatre and permanent casino.
Because the Ilitches’ businesses have grown in size and complexity, Mike and Marian formed Ilitch Holdings, Inc. in 1999 to provide professional and technical services to the Ilitch-owned primary business interests, which include: Little Caesar Pizza, Olympia Entertainment, Olympia Development, Champion Foods, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program and the Detroit Red Wings. Mike Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers, and Marian Ilitch owns MotorCity Casino Hotel. The 2015 total combined revenue of the Ilitch companies was $3.3 billion.