11 Facts About Domino's Pizza Founder Tom Monaghan (in 30 Minutes or Less)
Domino's Pizza was founded by brothers Tom and Jim Monaghan in 1960. At the time, it wasn't called Domino's (it was an established restaurant called DomiNick's), and the brothers faced plenty of challenges getting their new business off the ground. Today, Domino's Pizza is the #2 pizza chain, second only to Pizza Hut.
In 1986, Tom Monaghan wrote an autobiography entitled Pizza Tiger, detailing how he went from one store to thousands of franchise stores. Some of the revelations in the book are a little surprising. Here we go!
1. His Brother Sold His 50% Share in Domino's for a Used 1959 VW Beetle
About eight months after taking over an ailing pizza restaurant, Jim Monaghan wanted out. He owned 50% of the business (which today rakes in over $10 billion annually), and cashed out by taking the beat-up '59 Volkswagen Beetle the brothers had bought as a delivery car.
2. He Threatened Pizza Thieves With a Meat Tenderizer and Fisticuffs
Throughout the book, Monaghan recounts stories of violence related to pizza. It seems like he had a bit of a temper. This passage, from page 97 of the paperback edition, gives you an idea (emphasis added):
I didn't take abuse from anyone. If someone refused to pay a driver for an order, I didn't call the police. I just went and demanded the money. Usually, the culprits were a bunch of college guys who'd decided to have a party at my expense, and I didn't hesitate to swing a punch to persuade them to pay up. From time to time, we'd have a rash of pizza thefts from parked vehicles while drivers were busy with customers. I'd hide in the back of the car the next time it went to that neighborhood and wait for them to try it again. I'd carry a meat-tenderizing mallet or a pop bottle as a persuader, and that approach always solved the problem.
Directly after the quote above, Monaghan describes how he beat up an employee whom he had just fired. Fortunately, the charges were dropped.
3. He Met His Future Wife on His First Pizza Delivery
Fourteen months after getting into the pizza business, Monaghan made his first delivery from a new store he'd set up in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The order was to a dormitory at Central Michigan University. When Monaghan arrived, the woman working at the reception desk, Margie, caught his eye. Monaghan wrote (page 11):
After our second date, I gave Margie a heart-shaped pizza for Valentine's Day. It was a big hit with her friends in the dorm. On our third date, I looked into those big blue eyes and realized I was in love.
They were married the following year, and Margie Monaghan worked with Domino's for decades.
4. He Was Swindled...Repeatedly
Throughout the early days of Monaghan's business dealings, he was taken in by a series of business partners who effectively stole his money. The most notable was a would-be oil tycoon, who convinced Monaghan to give him his entire savings (several thousand dollars) to drill an oil well...and then disappeared. What's more, Monaghan built up those savings in the Marines, which he says he was duped into joining. He thought he was joining the Army, and only found out it was the Marines after taking aptitude tests. Oops.
5. He's Obsessed With Frank Lloyd Wright
Throughout his book, Monaghan discusses his lifelong interest (I say obsession) with the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For instance, on page 7 he casually drops FLW's name in this odd paragraph:
...I see no contradiction between, on the one hand, sitting down at home to a simple meal that my wife spoons out of the pots it was cooked in and, on the other, insisting that meals in the executive dining room at Domino's headquarters be of five-star quality, impeccably served, with white linen tablecloths, fine china designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, silverware, and crystal glasses.
He wrote extensively about his desire to build a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed tower as the centerpiece of a new headquarters for Domino's Pizza. On the grounds, he wrote that his collection of classic cars would be on display, along with peacocks, pygmy goats, Shire horses, miniature horses, Chianina cattle, and a museum of steam-powered farm equipment. Unfortunately, the tower was never built, though Monaghan got much of the rest done (and check out that Duesenberg!).
6. He Grew Up in a Roman Catholic Orphanage, and Founded a Roman Catholic University
Truly a self-made man, Monaghan and his brother Jim ended up in a Roman Catholic orphanage shortly after their father died and their mother couldn't handle raising the kids alone. It was a formative experience, and Monaghan is a devout Catholic to this day.
Monaghan founded Ave Maria University in 1998, located in Michigan. In 2007, he moved the university to southwest Florida, at an extremely inconvenient time for the real estate market (translation: it was costly). He also planned a community surrounding the Roman Catholic university that would be free of pre-marital sex, contraceptives, and pornography. Critics have suggested that this approach to town life violates Consitutional rights, but Monaghan told Bloomberg News: “There’s so much you can do at a university that can change the whole world. ... I didn’t want a diploma factory, I wanted a saint factory."
Monaghan and wis wife Margie met Pope John Paul II in 1987. Judging from the photo, it was awesome.
7. How He Invented the 30-Minutes-Or-Less Promise
Initially, Domino's did not offer its famous promise to deliver your pizza within 30 minutes of ordering, or it was free. This idea only came about after years of Monaghan tweaking his business practices—shaving seconds off of the time needed to make each pizza, streamlining the product line (to reduce the number of ingredients and variables), designing a new corrugated pizza box to keep the pizzas hot and protected during delivery, and all sorts of other crucial innovations.
The biggest innovation that enabled the 30-minute promise was territory. Monaghan bought up pizza joints whenever he could, slowly creating a network that meant there would be a store nearby any customer who might call. After franchising the business, the network effect continued to work, as thousands of franchisees clustered in regions in order to get pizzas to customers' doors on time. Sadly for those of us in the US, the 30-minute promise was discontinued in 1993, though it's still in effect in many international stores.
8. His Best Employees are Known as Dominoids
Monaghan presaged The Noid in his 1986 book when he wrote (emphasis added):
People respond to that [pizza-making] challenge. It's a game, and the ones who have a knack for it can go a long way in Domino's. They're the ones we call Dominoids, and we say that have pizza sauce in their veins.
This was published in 1986, the same year the "The Noid" became the official Domino's mascot. Coincidence? I think not.
9. He Maintains a Serious Diet, and Badgers Others to Lose Weight
Monaghan detailed his personal diet regimen on page 15 of Pizza Tiger:
Every Friday or Monday, or on any day that my weight has moved up over 163 pounds when I get on the scale in the morning, I limit myself to 500 calories. I eat dessert only eleven times a year: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, just before Lent, St. Patrick's Day, and six family birthdays. I call these my "pig-out" days.
He then proceeded to explain that "...over the years I've harassed some of my employees and franchisees to lose weight," and then explained how he convinced franchisee Dick Mueller to lose 100 pounds in exchange for a $50,000 bonus. (After an initial diet failure, it finally happened when Monaghan challenged Mueller to run a marathon. Monaghan presented a giant novelty check at the finish line, garnering some good PR.)
10. He Bought the Detroit Tigers at Just the Right Time
In 1983, Monaghan bought the Detroit Tigers. The next year, they won the World Series (!). Monaghan sold the Tigers in 1992 to Mike Ilitch, cofounder of Little Caesars. It's good to keep the team in the pizza family!
11. He's a Doctor of Pizzerology
In 1973, Monaghan pushed for a thorough corporate training program that would enable Domino's managers to learn the business at a deep level. Calling the program "Domino's College of Pizzerology," as of 1986 only Monaghan, the aforementioned Dick Mueller, and Jim Tilly held the "Doctor of Pizzerology" degree, though Monaghan writes that "about 20 individuals in the company hold a master's degree from the college."
More on Monaghan & Domino's
There's a ton more to the Domino's story in Pizza Tiger. It's out of print, but the book is very cheap on the used market. The copy I picked up happens to be autographed!
All images from "Pizza Tiger," 1986 paperback edition.