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The Story Behind Mike’s Pizza Bar in The District Detroit

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With its location at Little Caesars Arena along Woodward Avenue, Mike’s Pizza Bar is a busy, highly-visible dining experience. The restaurant, which opened in September along with the new, world-class arena, features a patio, hand-crafted pizzas and a full-service bar with local craft beer, custom cocktails and a diverse wine selection.

What you may not know is that this eatery, centered around pizza and sports, was designed to acknowledge the early career of Little Caesars Pizza co-founder Mike Ilitch.

The eatery’s decor features neon green signage bearing the name of Haig’s Bar, the now-shuttered hangout spot that once stood near the corner of Tireman and Livernois.

There, Mr. I— as he was known to many— made his first profit selling pizza, considered to be a fad at the time. He worked out of a space that was essentially a closet, about 300 square feet, said Sharon Arend, retiring Director of Archives and Historical Documents at Ilitch Holdings, Inc.

“Mr. Ilitch had a friend that worked in a pizzeria near University of Detroit and he worked for free to learn how to make pizza. This was before he opened his little kitchen in the back of Haig’s Bar,” Arend said.

During this time, the early 1950s, Mr. I paid the owner 5 percent of his profits, which he stored in a cigar box.

“He’d make $60 - $70 a night and maybe $100-$120 on weekends. He had no help; it was him alone,” Arend said.

In 1955, after suffering a career-ending injury while playing baseball in the Florida State League, Mr. I shifted his focus to pizza full time.

Along with his wife, Marian Ilitch, he opened Little Caesar’s Pizza Treat on May 8, 1959 in Garden City. They sold 49 pizzas on their first day of business. The carry out restaurant, which remains open today, also sold broasted chicken, shrimp, fish and spaghetti.

Today, Little Caesars is the leading international carryout pizza chain and is the third-largest pizza chain in the world, with stores in 23 countries and territories worldwide, including in each of the 50 U.S. states.

To visit the Mike's Pizza Bar website, click here.

About The District Detroit

The District Detroit is one of the largest sports and entertainment developments in the country. Located in the heart of Detroit, this 50-block, mixed-use development led by the Ilitch organization unites eight world-class theaters, five neighborhoods and three professional sports venues in one vibrant, walkable destination for people who want to live, work and play in an exciting urban environment. Home to the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Pistons and Detroit Lions - The District Detroit represents the greatest density of professional sports teams in one downtown core in the country.

Current data from the University of Michigan demonstrates that The District Detroit will account for an economic impact of more than $2 billion by 2020 and create more than 20,000 construction and construction-related jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs. 

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