Thomas Stephen Monaghan was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1937. When he was only four years old, his father died, and after two years, his mother settled Tom and his little brother James in an orphanage run by the Felician Sisters.
Although, later on, their mother was able to raise both of them independently, the nuns still significantly affected Tom, driving him to consider turning into a priest. But during that time, he didn’t have the needed discipline and was eventually expelled from the seminary. He then gained a much better sense of discipline after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years.
The Origins of Domino’s Pizza
Upon Monaghan’s discharge in 1959, he went back to Ann Arbor and enrolled in the University of Michigan. Inspired by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, he went on to become an architect. However, in 1960, Tom and his younger brother James borrowed $500 to acquire a pizzeria in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The former owners were named Nick and Dominic, and the pizzeria was called DomiNick’s. In just a year, Tom bought out James’ share for a Volkswagen Beetle. After obtaining two more stores, Tom switched the name in 1965 to Domino’s Pizza.
The stores were slowly losing money, but Tom Monaghan knew how to cater to them in the literal sense, given his experience in the college town. He dropped the sandwiches from the menu and directed his attention to making and delivering pizzas.
Tom invented an insulated box that can keep the pizza warm and also support the weight of many boxes placed on top of it. As a result, this enabled several pizzas delivered at once, without the box’s lid drooping, causing the cheese to get stuck to the top. With this came the birth of the modern-day pizza delivery service.
In 1973, Tom’s emphasis on delivery drove him to launch the guarantee of having your pizza delivered within 30 minutes of your phone order; else, the order will be free. Domino’s took off due to its upgraded delivery system, and Tom expanded his branches all over North America.
Acquisition of the Detroit Tigers
By 1983, Monaghan had grown wealthy enough to acquire the Detroit Tigers, his hometown baseball team. In just his initial full season as the owner in 1984, his baseball team won the World Series. But while Tom’s team was writing history on the field, he made two decisions that appeared to insult the off-field history of the group.
He declared that the Tiger Stadium that opened in 1912 required replacement and asked for subsidies from the city to construct a new stadium. Although Monaghan said he wanted a new stadium in Detroit, he did consider moving his team to the suburbs, much to his fans’ dismay.
And though the city government wouldn’t support the plan of building Comerica Park, Tiger Stadium’s replacement, until the team was sold later, Tom still received the blame for it much more than the new owner.
Monaghan also allowed the firing of Ernie Harwell, the Tigers’ favorite broadcaster. The objection from the Tiger fans was so prominent that Halwell was ultimately rehired under the new ownership.
A reawakening of Monaghan’s Catholic faith in 1992 led him to change his lifestyle. Tom sold the Tigers to the founder-owner of Little Caesar, Mike Ilitch, another Detroit-based pizza baron who already acquired the Detroit Red Wings hockey team.
Continuing his love for the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Monaghan had Domino’s headquarters in Ann Arbor designed to resemble a Wright-style building and was still in the process of constructing a Wright-style home when his reawakening happened. He concluded the large house was too flashy and stopped its construction. The home remains unfinished. Tom also sold several of his classic cars and funded and founded Catholic colleges in Florida and Ypsilanti.
Domino’s for Sale
Tom sold his Domino’s controlling interest in 1998 to Bain Capital. This Boston-based investment firm was nationally famous for its affiliation with Mitt Romney, eventual Presidential candidate and Massachusetts politician, for $1 billion.
Domino’s was mismanaged by Brain Capital, causing the company to fall into difficulties. In 2001, Tom, still owning a 7% stake in the company, went back to its management. The business had rebounded enough by 2004 to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
By 2011, Domino’s proclaimed that around one-third of its orders, and in several countries, almost half of them, were done online. The U.S.-based digital sales had exceeded $1 billion for a year, confirming Monaghan’s opinion that home delivery was the answer.
In the same year, Tom stepped down from his leadership of the Ave Maria University in Florida and went back into delivering food. In Naples, Florida, his adopted hometown, Tom established Gyrene Burger, rationalizing that hamburgers are more popular than a pizza. However, the idea never quite soared, and after trying to move to Knoxville, Tennessee, it closed every one of its locations.