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Little Caesars Smokehouse Pizza – Large round pizza with beef brisket, pulled pork, Applewood-smoked bacon and BBQ sauce, plus a smokehouse-seasoned crust.
Death of a Pizza Man: Mike Ilitch, Little Caesars and Detroit
By Chris Morgan | February 27, 2017
In 1959, Garden City, Michigan was a small, unremarkable suburb of Detroit. According to the 1960 census, it had a population of 38,017. This was a time before white flight had caused the population of the Motor City to dissipate across the Metro Detroit area. The city I grew up in, Sterling Heights, which is now the fourth-largest city in Michigan, wouldn’t even be founded for almost a decade. In that year in that small suburb, though, a couple opened their first pizza restaurant. The man wanted to call it Pizza Treat. He was convinced to give it another name, Little Caesars.
The man in question was, of course, Mike Ilitch. It may seem strange to think of a massive, global pizza chain as being a “Detroit” company. Little Caesars isn’t a more localized pizza place, a la Jet’s or Buddy’s, the latter of whom is considered the finest purveyors of “Detroit-style pizza.” Detroit-style pizza, for the unfamiliar, is a Sicilian-style square deep dish pizza with a nice, thick, usually crisp crust. Little Caesars is the third-largest pizza chain in the United States. This is how and why Ilitch died a billionaire. However, to me, when I think pizza, I think Little Caesars. I will forever connect Ilitch and his pizza organization to the city of Detroit.
As a child, when my family got pizza, we got Little Caesars. It’s naturally ubiquitous in the area, and the defining pizza chain of my life. The orange-and-white iconography, the short, big nosed Roman-looking gentleman (the physical manifestation of “Little Caesar”), the catchphrase “Pizza! Pizza!” they are all emblazoned on my brain. We ate Crazy Bread, their take on breadsticks. When the big pizza chains were involved in their battle to create the biggest party-sized pizza, any party I remember going to went with Little Caesars.
However, it’s not like anybody didn’t understand what the Hot-N-Ready pizza was all about. In The Simpsons Homer once asked Marge if she wanted something done right, or done fast. Marge responded, “Well, like all Americans, fast!” Marge spoke for the people who liked the Hot-N-Ready pizza. It was cheap and convenient, and if that was all you cared about it was the platonic idea of pizza. It clearly worked, because the Hot-N-Ready pizza remains Little Caesars’ main selling point.
Although Domino’s was founded a stone’s throw from Metro Detroit in Ypsilanti, it isn’t a Michigan brand and much less a Detroit brand. Ilitch, though, engrained himself in Detroit, and company’s headquarters are located in downtown’s Fox Theatre Building. More to the point, Ilitch owned the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings for many years. He bought the Wings in 1982 and the Tigers in 1992, fittingly from Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s, and made him a vital part of the life of any Detroit sports fan.
He was born in Detroit. He died in Detroit. He gave us Crazy Bread and cheap large pepperoni pizzas that you could pick up immediately whenever you felt like it without having to call ahead. I’ve never been deeply impacted by the death of a fast food entrepreneur before. I probably never will again. That’s the strange, intimate relationship Ilitch had with Detroit and its denizens in a nutshell. May the Tigers win a World Series in your honor, sir. May your bread always be crazy.