Honor And Legacy

How a pizza chain inspired a marque restaurant at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.


Published:

Mike's Pizza Bar, a restaurant at Little Caesars Arena, honors former Red Wing owner Mike Illitch, who passed away in February.

Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., which owns the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Fox Theatre, and other operations, could have easily signed a lease with a name brand restaurant for the marque space at the main entrance to Little Caesars Arena. But honoring his parents came first.

In August, Ilitch announced that the restaurant space at the southeast corner of the arena, at Woodward Avenue and Henry Street and next to the entrance to the Via, a covered street plaza inside the venue, would be home to Mike’s Pizza Bar, in honor of Mike and Marian Ilitch (Mike Ilitch passed away in February).

“My father started in the pizza business when he was home from playing minor league baseball in Florida. He would hook up with his buddies, and in 1952 one of his buddies was working in a pizza restaurant,” Ilitch says.

“So my father asked if he could work there for free. He loved the product, it was new, it wasn’t a well-known product, and he was just in awe that you could take flour, water, oil, salt, and sugar and put it all together and this dough gets created, and then the toppings went on it.”

The following winter, Ilitch says his father decided he was going to open his own pizza shop, and he approached the woman who owned Haig’s Bar on Livernois Avenue in Detroit about using some of her space. The woman agreed because she thought Mike was “a
cute guy” and she wanted to give him a shot.

“I say shop, but it was inside a closet in her bar, some 200 or 300 square feet,” Ilitch says. “He would pay her a percentage of revenue, and for the winter he sold pizza out of that closet. It was at that moment that he thought, ‘Wow, this is an incredible business.’ And when he went back to playing baseball, he would tell his buddies that ‘If I don’t make it in baseball, I’m going to open up a pizza shop in every town across America.’ ”

From there, Mike and Marian launched Little Caesars Pizza in 1959 in Garden City (the store is still in operation). Today, the company operates more than 4,200 locations in the United States and some 20 different countries.

Mike’s Pizza Bar will feature artisanal-style pizza and other menu offerings in an open kitchen setting. The contemporary restaurant is scheduled to open on Sept. 12 when entertainer Kid Rock begins the first of six concerts at the arena.

“Mike’s Pizza Bar was inspired by (my father’s) beginnings selling pizza in a bar,” Ilitch says. “To me it just felt so right … and is very fitting. It all goes back to where this all started, which is Mike Ilitch opening up a little pizza operation in a closet in a bar in Detroit — and what a perfect way to honor the man that started all of this that we’re seeing today.”

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Double Down

The waiting game proved successful for a Birmingham investment team.

Civil Action

A historic police precinct near Eastern Market finds new life.

Peer Group

Life Directions is a nonprofit organization founded by Rev. John Phelps that helps at-risk teens and young adults.

PDA Q&A: Van Conway, E-Interview

Interview with Founder and CEO of Van Conway and Partners in Birmingham.

Giant Aspirations

How imageOne in Oak Park landed on Forbes’ list of America’s best small companies.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. General Motors Begins to Open GM World at its Renaissance Center Global Headquarters
    General Motors Co. has started to open GM World, a new experiential installation in the atrium of...
  2. Greenblendz in Auburn Hills Partners With Amcor in Ann Arbor to Introduce Environmentally-Friendly Packaging
    Greenblendz in Auburn Hills and Amcor, an Australian-based company that has a large manufacturing...
  3. Columbia Street Development in Downtown Detroit Set to Open This Year
    Olympia Development of Michigan in Detroit is set to open Columbia Street, a mixture of 10 retail...
  4. Oakland County Draws Record $1.2B in Investment Representing 62 Companies and 9,500 Jobs in 2017
    In his State of the County address on Wednesday, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson...
  5. Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse to Open in Northville Township
    Ohio-based Hyde Park Restaurant Group has announced plans to open a Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse in...
  6. Detroit Zoo to Add Major New Nature Center in Macomb County
    The Detroit Zoological Society today announced that Macomb County will be the location of the new...