Born July 20, 1929, Mike Ilitch was considered an excellent athlete through his teens, and was part of the Detroit Tigers' organization as a shortstop with a good bat. But his call to the majors never came, and Ilitch decided to try to make a living in the restaurant business.
Mike convinced a Detroit area nightclub owner that he should be selling pizza, and was allowed to make pizzas in a back room. Business boomed, and Ilitch realized he had stumbled onto an idea whose time was about to arrive. Although Mike and his wife Marian did not have the money to purchase their own pizza parlour at the time, Mike set out to raise the capital needed, first in door-to-door sales and later in an awning business. By 1959, the couple had saved $10,000 and borrowing an additional $15,000, the Ilitches made plans to open their own restaurant.
The Ilitches chose a strip mall in Garden City, a suburb of Detroit, in which to launch their pizza parlour. Mike wanted to call the restaurant 'Pizza Treat,' but Marian insisted they name it 'Little Caesar's' after her pet name for her husband. On May 9, 1959, Little Caesar's Pizza Treat was born. Little did the couple realize at the time that their one restaurant would become the world's foremost take-out pizza chain, known across the United States and Canada.
In the early eighties, Mike Ilitch saw the opportunity to get into sports when he was offered a great price to purchase the struggling Detroit Red Wings franchise. In 1982, he bought the Red Wings for $8 million from the Norris family. Ten years later, he was presented with yet another terrific opportunity when the Major League Baseball Detroit Tigers were offered for sale. He purchased that franchise for $85 million. Through astute business practices, clever drafting and acquisitions, and savvy marketing, both franchises became profitable and extraordinarily popular organizations. The Detroit Red Wings went on to capture Stanley Cup championships in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
In June 2003, the 74-year old maven was selected to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder. "By far, this is the biggest moment of my professional life. It's a great honour," Ilitch stated at the time. "It's been an absolute labour of love. I'm so pleased with this moment that when I was informed, I could barely speak."