02.14.17

Peters Pays Tribute to Detroit Entrepreneur Mike Ilitch in Official Congressional Record

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) paid tribute to Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers.

Text of his remarks in the Congressional Record:

Mr. President, I rise today to remember Michael “Mike” Ilitch of Detroit, Michigan, founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings. Sadly, Mr. Ilitch passed away last week at the age of 87.  Mr. Ilitch was enthusiastic about sports, passionate about the City of Detroit and dedicated to his family.

Mr. Ilitch was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 20, 1929 to Macedonian immigrants, Sotir and Sultana. After graduating from Cooley High School, Mr. Ilitch served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps before returning to Detroit to play minor league baseball for the Tigers. Following a knee injury, Mr. Ilitch worked as a door-to-door salesperson, selling awnings, pots, and pans, in order to save enough money to start his own business.

In 1959, Mr. Ilitch and his wife, Marian, opened their first pizza store in the Detroit suburb of Garden City: Little Caesars Pizza. While Mr. Ilitch initially named the pizzeria Pizza Treat, his wife Marian convinced him to change it to Little Caesar, her nickname for him. Over four decades, Mr. Ilitch expanded the business to approximately 4,000 stores across North America and parts of Europe. The chain became well-known for its commercial tagline, “Pizza! Pizza!”

As Little Caesars grew to be one of the largest carryout pizza chains in the United States, Mr. Ilitch purchased the Detroit Red Wings hockey team in 1982, recognizing the great potential of a then failing team. By stocking the team with promising college players, Mr. Ilitch revitalized the Red Wings. Under Mr. Ilitch, the Red Wings won four Stanley Cup titles in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008, which led him to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 as well as the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 1992, Mr. Ilitch acquired the Detroit Tigers baseball team – the same team that contracted him in the minor leagues. The Tigers reached the World Series twice under Mr. Ilitch stewardship in 2006 and 2012.

An icon and pillar of the community, Mr. Ilitch never lost faith in the resurgence of the City of Detroit and the resilience of the people he loved so much. During the city’s most challenging times, he poured his heart and passion into Detroit’s renaissance. Mr. Ilitch played an active role in the community, supporting local organizations and residents. In 1987, Mr. Ilitch and his wife bought and restored the historic Fox Theater, rejuvenating the entertainment scene in downtown Detroit.  He privately assisted civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, paying her rent when she moved into the Riverfront Apartments in 1994. In 2007, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs awarded Mr. Ilitch with the Secretary’s Award for the “Little Caesars Veteran Program,” which provided business opportunities to nobly discharged war veterans.

As an entrepreneur, leader, and kindhearted family man, Mr. Ilitch will be greatly missed across Michigan as he touched the lives of many people throughout the state. Mr. Ilitch is survived by his wife of sixty-three years, Marian; seven children, Denise, Ron, Michael Jr., Lisa, Atanas, Christopher and Carole; twenty-two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. President, I cannot express enough the impact Mr. Mike Ilitch had on the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan. He was truly a treasure to our community and an example of the American Dream. His passion, dedication, and leadership will be missed. However, I am confident his legacy will continue to inspire others to take action to strengthen the City of Detroit, the community he served with his whole heart.