From Orphan to Franchising Legend: The Tom Monaghan Story

From Orphan to Franchising Legend: The Tom Monaghan Story

The Domino’s Pizza Franchise Founder Epitomizes the Rags-to-Riches Success Story

Life isn’t about the hardships we face; it’s about our reaction to those difficulties, and nobody understands that better than Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. The legendary franchisor grew up in the St. Joseph Home for Children after his mother was unable to care for him and his brother, Jim, following the death of their father. Little did Tom know that he’d become a multimillionaire franchise founder with luxury homes, designer furniture, and sports cars, and even owner of the Detroit Tigers baseball team for nearly a decade.  

Here, we delve into the iconic entrepreneur’s early life, his Catholic faith and the rise of the Domino’s Pizza franchise

Early Life

Born on March 25, 1937, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Monaghan’s faith and values were formed during his time at the orphanage. He graduated from St. Thomas High School in 1955 and enrolled at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. Following graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served for three years until being honorably discharged in 1959.   

Entering the Pizza Business 

Upon returning home, Monaghan wanted to pursue an architecture degree but needed the money to do so. Since his brother, Jim, previously worked at a pizzeria, the brothers decided to go into business together and took out a $900 loan to buy an established pizza business called DomiNick’s. After Jim wanted out of the business, Tom bought his 50% share in exchange for the Volkswagen Beetle they’d been using to make deliveries.

Tom eventually renamed the business Domino’s and focused on reaching college campuses with a tight franchise model. Monaghan started building the Domino’s Farms Office Park in 1984 and is known for inventing the 30-minutes-or-less promise, which the pizza franchisor’s anti-mascot, The Noid, commonly attempted to foil.  

By 1985, Domino’s was opening three new locations daily, which is more than any restaurant chain in history, according to Ave Maria University. Monaghan sold the Domino’s Pizza franchise to Bain Capital Inc. for $1 billion in 1998, allowing him to step away from the company’s daily operations and pursue more fulfilling ventures.

The biggest impact I can have for what I want to do, the results I want to have with what God’s given me, is to help as many people as possible get to heaven.

Finding Faith and Personal Fulfillment

Even while he was in the thick of running the Domino’s Pizza franchise, Monaghan founded Legatus, an international organization of Catholic CEOs and presidents, in 1987. He also established St. Thomas More Law Center and Ave Maria University and served as president of the Ave Maria Law School’s Board of Governors. He became a knight in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and sums up his philosophy as: “The biggest impact I can have for what I want to do, the results I want to have with what God’s given me, is to help as many people as possible get to heaven.”

In terms of his personal life, Monaghan has been married to Marjorie “Margie” Zybach since 1964. The couple lives in Michigan and has four daughters, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. (Fun fact: they met during Monaghan’s first pizza delivery!) His story, documented in the inspiring book Monaghan: A Life, reveals how Monaghan has influenced countless franchisors with more than just his entrepreneurial spirit. 

Lessons from the Tom Monaghan Story

Everybody loves a good rags-to-riches story, and Monaghan is the epitome of that. From humble beginnings in a Roman Catholic orphanage, he never let life’s difficulties block him from achieving all that he could. He also understands that while business success like selling the innovative Domino’s Pizza franchise for $1 billion is wonderful, having a deeper purpose like family and faith make the hard work worth it. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that? 

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Haley Cafarella is a passionate journalist and content developer. In her role as content and marketing specialist for IFPG, she creates original content for the franchise broker network's ongoing initiatives and writes articles for
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