View Full Version : Tigers, Red Wings owner and pizza titan Mike Ilitch dead at 87

02-10-2017, 04:42 PM
Mike Ilitch rose from a humble west-side neighborhood to assemble a food, sports and entertainment empire that enabled him to return the Stanley Cup to Hockeytown, build both a new arena and a ballpark with a Ferris wheel, restore the grandeur of downtown’s iconic Fox Theatre and introduce metro Detroit to the concepts of “pizza-pizza” and an $8 cup of beer.
From his first Little Caesars outlet in Garden City strip mall in 1959 — where a pizza cost $2.39 — Ilitch, aided at every step by Marian, his wife of 61 years, became a major metro Detroit personality and a key figure in the revival of downtown Detroit. In addition to founding the Little Caesars pizza chain, he owned the Red Wings, Tigers and the Fox Theatre, and operated city-owned Joe Louis, Cobo, and Little Caesars arenas, among other smaller businesses, teams and restaurants.
Ilitch, one of the most famous Detroiters of his time, has dead at the age of 87.
Success brought Ilitch and his family fabulous wealth. The 2016 Forbes magazine compilation of the 400 richest Americans listed Mike and Marian Ilitch at No. 88 with a net worth of $5.4 billion. In addition, Marian Ilitch is the sole owner of the Motor City Casino.
But perhaps more important to Ilitch were a different set of statistics: four Stanley Cup championships for his Red Wings, two trips to the World Series for his Detroit Tigers, and a vast number of trophies for team and individual player achievements.


02-10-2017, 04:52 PM
The son of Macedonian immigrants, Ilitch grew up on Chalfonte, near Fenkell and Livernois. After graduating from Cooley High School, where he ran track and played baseball, he served four years in the Marines, then signed a minor-league contract with the Tigers. A shortstop, Ilitch argued constantly with his father, Sotir, a machine maintenance man at Chrysler Corp., about the value of a baseball career, but he failed to make the big leagues.
While traveling in the minors, though, Ilitch became interested in a postwar food fad called pizza pie, and returned home one winter to run a pizza operation from the unused kitchen in the back of Haig’s, a west side bar. It was a success.

Ilitch quit baseball and became a door-to-door salesman who pitched awnings, pots, pans and china, earning enough money to open his first Little Caesars, at Cherry Hill and Venoy in Garden City. Soon, the Ilitches were opening Little Caesars outlets across the metro area and beyond. The chain became known for quirky TV ads and the “Pizza! Pizza!” two-for-one deals. By the early 1990s, the company called itself the “world’s largest carry-out pizza chain,” with more than 4,300 outlets.
As the business grew, Ilitch began sponsoring youth hockey and adult softball, but dreamed of bigger things. In 1982, he bought the Red Wings. It was a bargain: Ilitch didn’t put up a penny of the $8 million price. Instead, he gave longtime owner Bruce Norris a $1 million down payment from season ticket sales collected after the agreement was signed.
Rebuilding the woebegone Wings took several years. Ilitch spent millions and was patient as General Manager Jimmy Devellano and Jim Lites, Ilitch’s former son-in-law, built through the draft and by sneaking players out of communist countries.

By the late 1980s, the Wings had become an interesting team; by the mid-1990s they had become a great team, and today they remain one of the most successful franchises in professional sports, having won four Stanley Cup championships since 1997 and through early 2016 had made the post-season playoffs an astonishing 25 years in a row.

Porch Dweller
02-10-2017, 07:47 PM
RIP, Mr. Ilitch. I'm a Bruins fan, but definitely respected how you turned the Red Wings into a power.

02-11-2017, 09:49 AM
He set the standard for ownership and leadership in the NHL. R.I.P., Mr. Ilitch.

02-11-2017, 09:56 AM
If only it were Jeff Lauria

RIP to a classy owner