Michael and Marian Ilitch took a chance on a little-known snack food called pizza and built a carryout empire.
When Michael and Marian Ilitch opened a single pizza shop in Garden City, Michigan, with their $10,000 life savings, they were taking a chance on a little-known snack food called pizza—and on a carryout-only model that many told them would fail. The year was 1959, and the Ilitches quickly proved their critics wrong. The concept soon took off, with the couple selling its first franchise in 1962 to grow the business. The first international franchise opened in Canada in 1969, and, by 1987, Little Caesars had stores in all 50 states; today, the business has locations on five continents.
With this rapid expansion came innovations that changed the pizza industry. The iconic mid-’70s “Pizza! Pizza!” campaign, with a two-for-one pizza offer, prompted the early development of a conveyor oven designed for pizzas to meet growing demand. The company’s Crazy Bread made breadsticks a common pizza accompaniment, and the pizzeria was the first to have a drive-thru, open a stadium location and serve lunchtime pizza in minutes. It’s now known for its line of Hot-N-Ready products, which cater to on-the-go consumers.
Throughout the decades, Little Caesars’ low prices have kept the company afloat even in times of economic hardship. “Since Marian and I opened our first store, Little Caesars has been focused on providing families with great value,” said Michael Ilitch upon the business’ 50-year anniversary in 2009. “It’s a formula that has worked for five decades and will work for many more.”
Giving back has also been a driving force in the company from its beginnings. Early on, Little Caesars sponsored youth hockey and eventually created the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League. The Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a pizza kitchen on wheels, has provided free hot meals to millions, including the homeless as well as disaster survivors and rescue workers; a second Love Kitchen was added in 2008. And dozens of U.S. veterans have received credits and benefits through the company’s Veterans Program to become franchisees.
Now in its sixth decade, the company wants to continue its focus on fun, value and growth. “Little Caesars is well-positioned to reach countless more milestones,” says David Scrivano, president of Little Caesars. “We have achieved consistent growth for many years and expect the momentum to continue.” –Tracy Morin