The history of Little Caesars is fascinating. I personally have a lot of great memories with Little Caesars. It was the pizza that was at every birthday party growing up and a college staple. I actually had a roommate once eat nothing but Little Caesars and burrito bus for a semester. His body did not appreciate that. However, he taught me things about Little Caesars that have stuck with me to this day. For example, those of you out there who don’t like Little Caesars likely haven’t had it with crazy crust. If you’ve never tried crazy crust you haven’t lived. Next time you are going past a Little Caesars stop in, get a hot and ready, and ask for the crazy crust. It adds $1 to the cost of the pie, but I promise you will thank me.
The History of Little Caesars in the Beginning
Mike Ilitch was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1929. He graduated high school and then served 4 years in the marine corps. When he got out of the military, he went back home to Detroit. Mike loved baseball and was actually a decent player. The Detroit tigers offered him $3,000 if he would sign to play baseball for one of their minor league affiliates. This resulted in a 4 year minor league career from 1952-1955. He played second base and short stop for the tigers and also spent time with the Yankees and Washington Senators organizations. He suffered a knee injury that forced him out of playing permanently.
In 1954, Mike Ilitch went on a blind date with Marian Bayoff that was set up by Mike’s father. After a few short months, they were married.
Mike loved pizza and during his time playing ball, he’d sample pizza from local restaurants in towns he visited. At that time, pizza hadn’t caught on as an accepted dinner food. Mike eventually had plans to change that. However, before he slid headfirst into pizza, he worked for a cement company and sold awnings door to door. He started an awning business with some friends and it started to take off. Eventually they said thanks for the hard work by buying him out of the business. Without a job, Mike turned his attention to what would be his next big thing.
In 1959, Mike and Marian invested their entire life savings, which was a total of $10,000, into opening a pizza place in Garden City, Michigan, which is a suburb of Detroit. They called it “Little Caesars Pizza Treat”. That original location closed in October 2018.
Why Little Caesars?
Have you ever wondered how they got their name? When they initially opened, Mike wanted to call the place Pizza Treat. However, Marian felt it should be named something more personal. She always called Mike her little Caesar. The name stuck and the couple settled on Little Caesars Pizza Treat.
When they first launched they served pizza as well as hot dogs, chicken shrimp and fish. Mike wasn’t content with just one location. He took some advice from a Texas oilman who said the best way to make money is to have other people make it for you. With that mantra ringing in his mind, he was eager to begin franchising his concept.
Just a few short years after they opened their first location, they sold their first franchise in 1962 in Warren, Michigan. They were then off to the races. They expanded rapidly using the franchise model. In 1967 they opened their first location in Detroit. In 1969 they went international and crossed the border into Canada.
During the 90s and 2000s, they were found in many Kmart stores. Now that’s a blast from the past right there. That smell of merchandise from the store blending with pizza. I remember buying many pizzas from the local Kmart. When Kmart had their financial issues, Little Caesars moved on. Between 2008 and 2015 Little Caesars was the fastest growing pizza chain in the United States. As of 2017, Little Caesars has 5,463 locations worldwide. They are now in all 50 states and 18 international markets.
Mike and Marian, The Perfect Team
The history of Little Caesars continues with Mike and Marian. They really were the perfect team. Mike had a natural talent and ability to market his business and Marian taught herself the accounting side. Together they built a pizza empire.
Marian made the difficult decision to leave home and go work in the office. She said:
“I promised myself I’d handle both jobs, even if it meant losing sleep and doing work after the kids went to bed. And I promised myself I’d never complain, because I was petrified that Mike would want me to go home if it got to be too much,” she said.
“That’s what makes it such a different deal for women. I wanted to be a mother, and I wanted to work. I wanted to do both so badly.”
She successfully balanced her position in the company and being a mother of 7 kids. That’s incredible! I love her attitude. It was important for her to have a place in the business and it was important for her to be a mom. And she was determined to do both no matter what.
In her later years, she often referred to Little Caesars as her 8th child!
Pizza! Pizza! Was Born
In 1979 Little Caesars launched a new promotion. They offered customers 2 pizzas for the price of what one pizza would cost from a competitor. Cliff Freeman was the brains behind this marketing campaign. He also came up with the famous “Where’s the Beef” campaign used by Wendy’s. Mike Ilitch Auditioned several hundred voice actors to read the “Pizza! Pizza!” line before just asking Cliff to do it himself. He agreed and the rest was history.
In the United States, Pizza! Pizza! Is trademarked by Little Caesars. However, in Canada there is actually a pizza place called Pizza Pizza. They started operating in the late 60s which was a decade before Little Caesars began using the tagline. In Canada they have instead used, “Two Pizzas”, “Delivery Delivery” and “Quality Quality”. They also use the famous “Hot ’N Ready” line as well.
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