After his father died when Tom was four years old, his mother had difficulties raising him alone, and at age six, Monaghan and his younger brother ended up in an orphanage until their mother collected them again in 1949. The orphanage, St. Joseph Home for Children in Jackson, Michigan, was run by the Felician Sisters of Livonia; one of the nuns inspired Tom’s devotion to the Catholic faith and he later entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, in Grand Rapids, with the desire to eventually become a priest. Unfortunately, he was expelled from the seminary for a series of disciplinary infractions.
After graduating from Ann Arbor’s St. Thomas High School in 1955, and enrolling at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, he
In 1956, Monaghan enlisted in the United States Marine Corps by mistake; he meant to join the Army. He received an honorable discharge three years later, in 1959 and returned to Ann Arbor, where he enrolled at the University of Michigan, intending to become an architect.
While still a student, Tom and his brother, James, borrowed $900 to purchase a small pizza store called DomiNick’s in Ypsilanti, Michigan. After a lawsuit with Domino Sugar, the business grew into Domino’s Pizza. After opening three more stores, Tom traded his brother a Volkswagen Beetle for his half of the business. Tom dropped sandwiches from the menu and focused on delivering pizza to college campuses, inventing a new insulated pizza box to improve delivery. The new box, unlike its chipboard predecessors, could be stacked without crushing the pizzas inside, permitting more pizzas per trip, and keeping them warm until they arrived. Monaghan’s emphasis on delivery led him, to guarantee having a pizza delivered within 30 minutes of a phone order being placed, or the order would be free. Spreading his model to other college towns through a tightly-controlled franchising system, by the mid-1980s there were nearly three new Domino’s franchises opening every day.
In 1983, Tom bought his home town baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, for $53 million, and eleven years later, in 1992, sold the team to Mike Ilitch, former Marine and the President and CEO of Little Caesars Pizza. Monaghan also owns the Domino’s Farms Office Park, located in the Ann Arbor Charter Township, Michigan, which he first started building in 1984.
In 1998, Tom announced his retirement after 38 years with Domino’s Pizza Inc., he sold 93% of the company to Bain Capital, Inc. for about $1 billion, and ceased being involved in day-to-day operations of the company, he subsequently dedicated his time and considerable fortune to Catholic causes. A champion of the pro-life movement and other conservative causes, Tom has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting them.
Bain Capital’s mismanagement of Domino’s caused the company to fall into dire straits, and in 2001 Monaghan, still holding a 7 percent stake in the company, returned to its management. By 2004, the company had rebounded enough to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. By 2011, Domino’s was able to report that an increase in online sales, and U.S. digital sales had topped $1 billion for a one-year period, proving Tom’s belief that home delivery was the way to go.
The story behind Domino’s Pizza, including the many obstacles and setbacks that Tom overcame and the path he took to success, was compiled for the first time in his 1986 autobiography, Pizza Tiger, published by Random House.
In early 2002 Monaghan sought to establish the Ave Maria University, a private Catholic university in Southwest Florida. Ave Maria University shares its history with the former Ave Maria College that was in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which closed in 2007.
In December 2011, Tom embarked on his second quick service restaurant brand by starting Gyrene Burger Company. The military-themed burger delivery concept is a throwback to Monaghan’s days in the Corps. The term “Gyrene” was used in the 1940s and 1950s as a nickname for Marines. In starting Gyrene Burger, Monaghan is providing franchise incentives to eligible Marines and veterans of the other military branches. The flagship store for the brand is located in Knoxville, TN.
Monaghan has received honorary degrees from twelve universities around the country, and in March of 2000, he was named an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College within Britain’s University of Cambridge.