Tom Monaghan was once a billionaire. He owned 244 classic automobiles, including a rare Bugatti Royale. He built a $30 million resort on a Lake Huron island. He hopped helicopters from the headquarters of the company he founded, Domino’s Pizza (DPZ), to watch the Major League Baseball team he owned, the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers, the resort, and the cars are gone. The man who invented 30-minute pizza delivery sold Domino’s and eats less pizza these days because he’s gluten-free. He spent most of his fortune creating a foundation, a university, a law school, a mutual fund, and a radio station that embrace his Roman Catholic beliefs. At 77 years old, he rises each day at 1:50 a.m. After prayer, reading, exercise, and Mass, he goes to work in his cubbyhole of an office in the building that houses his old company, surrounded by milky glass statuettes of the Virgin Mary. Monaghan says his ultimate goal is “to get into Heaven and take as many people as I can with me.”
Mike Ilitch is still very much a billionaire. The founder of the privately held Little Caesars takeout pizza chain owns the Tigers, which he bought from Monaghan, the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings, Detroit’s ornate Fox Theater, and tracts of vacant downtown land littered with rocks and broken glass. The man who drove rivals crazy by selling two-for-one pizzas now is being called batty for committing $292 million to Tigers superstar Miguel Cabrera. At 84, Ilitch is desperate for his team to win its first World Series since 1984. From his 10th-story office in downtown Detroit, he can see Comerica Park where the Tigers play near the lots he plans to develop into a commercial and residential hub revolving around a hockey arena. Ilitch declined to be interviewed.
Mike Ilitch and Tom Monaghan are Detroit’s unlikely pizza barons, and their stories are drawing to a close. Detroit is never confused with Chicago or New York as a pizza town, but Domino’s, the nation’s No. 2 pizza chain behind Pizza Hut (YUM), and No. 3 Little Caesars together claimed 20 percent of the $34 billion in sales at U.S. pizza restaurants in 2013, says research firm Technomic.