The untold truth of Domino's

It doesn't matter if you love them or hate them, you've had their pizza. It's delivered to office parties and college campuses in giant piles, it's a staple of football games, it fills the hole, and satisfies that pizza craving. You've ordered from them… but how much do you really know about them? Not all you should. Let's fix that.

Domino's founder was almost a priest

Tom Monaghan's father passed away when he was only 4 years old, and he was 6 when his mother had no choice but to turn him and his younger brother, James, over to the care of a Felician Sisters orphanage. According to The Balance, she got on her feet and was later able to take the boys back into her care, but Monaghan had already developed firm religious beliefs — thanks to a nun named Sister Berarda, he told The New Yorker — so strong, he briefly considered going into the seminary and becoming a priest. Instead, he ended up serving three years with the Marines, then returning to his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He had goals of being an architect, and alongside an enrollment in the University of Michigan he and his brother bought a pizzeria.

Originally named DomiNick's (after previous owners Dominic and Nick), they changed it to Domino's Pizza. When they opened the fourth store, Monaghan bought his brother's share in the business. The price? A Volkswagen Beetle.

They invented the pizza box as we know it today

Monaghan's pizzerias failed at first, but he shaped the business to cater to the college students in town. He dropped everything but pizza from the menu (via The Balance), established his delivery service, then revolutionized it with something we take for granted today. Monaghan made pizza boxes that were extra-durable and insulated. That meant he could deliver an entire stack of pizzas to a group of college kids without the stack collapsing and making a saucy, cheesy mess, and it also meant those pizzas were still going to be hot when they got there. It was a winning combination that directly led to his 30-minute guarantee roll-out in 1973, and within 10 years he was rich enough to buy the Detroit Tigers.

He walked away to go on a moral crusade

By 1985, Monaghan sat at the top of an empire that included 2,800 locations and a personal fortune that allowed him to invest in things like the Tigers, a 200-strong collection of classic cars, and an island resort. When Bloomberg looked at the empire in 2017, they also looked at the Monaghan's sale of the company. In 1998, he sold 93 percent — for $1 billion — to Bain Capital LP, which was run by Mitt Romney at the time.

According to The New Yorker's 2007 interview with the eccentric billionaire, he really wanted to help guide people on the path to Heaven, and do what he could to rescue his beloved Catholic Church from what he saw as a downward spiral. When he learned about the different beliefs developing within the church he had found his personal crusade, and he started with getting involved with supporting the Nicaraguan Contras and ultimately funding a $4.5-million cathedral. In 1989, he stepped down from being Domino's president and CEO, swore what he called "a millionaire's vow of poverty," and started selling off his property. When he sold the company in 1998, it was with the declaration: "I want to die broke."

They have an unconventional sort of headquarters

Domino's has their headquarters at a sprawling, 270-acre complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan. According to Bloomberg, around 800 people work in the three Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired buildings that each stretch for about half a mile through a prairie-pastoral swath of land. Also sharing the land? A herd of free-roaming buffalo and the animals of The Petting Farm at Domino's Farms.

It might not be as idyllic as it seems, though, and when a reporter for The Independent headed there in 1998 to talk about Domino's big sale, he got the cold shoulder. David Usborne called ahead from the airport and was told to leave, but didn't. When he asked for a press packet regarding Domino's sale, they reluctantly agreed. He was met at headquarters by Monaghan's daughter, Maggie — the same person who told him to go home — and a security guard who told him no one wanted him "snooping around." His visit only lasted minutes, but he did walk away with one observation: women were restricted to a dresses-and-skirts only dress code.

They didn't want to publish nutritional information

Domino's lack of transparency extended to their pizza, too. In 2012, they led the fight against new government regulations that would require restaurants to list their nutritional information. The Bangor Daily News says Domino's wasn't the only pizza place protesting the requirement — they were joined by Papa John's, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars — but they did lead the charge. It was based on the idea it just wasn't feasible, and the sheer number of possible combinations of ingredients a customer could order on their pizza meant there was no way they could assemble a reliable, accurate calorie count.

The fight went on for years, according to Business Insider, and Domino's was the loudest voice. By 2015, the FDA was only requiring pizza places to list calorie ranges for each possible ingredient that could be ordered, but Domino's VP of communications Lynn Liddle responded with, "What I don't want to do is put ranges that consumers will not understand and make my small business pay for it."

One man ate Domino's every day to prove a point

We all know it's not good to eat a whole pizza every day, in spite of Domino's Pizza Planner that shows customers just how to responsibly enjoy a few slices of Domino's. One absolute legend decided he wasn't going to be told what to do, and chose Domino's to prove a point about eating healthy and working out. Brian Northrup ate a whole Domino's pizza every day for 367 days (in addition to other foods). By the end, he had lost 5.9 pounds, proving the point he'd set out to make. You don't need to stress about everything you eat, you don't need to feel like you've failed a diet because of a few pieces of pizza, and you can absolutely exercise away a bad diet… even though he clarified to Food Beast that he didn't recommend it. Thanks, Brian, and thanks, Domino's!

Their international stores have some wild stuff on the menu

If you stop by any one of Domino's international locations for a quick bite thinking you're going to get a taste of home, you'd be sorely mistaken. Domino's menus outside of the US look extraordinarily different, and they cater to regional tastes.

Head to Japan, says Adage, and you'll get things like snow crab, beef stew, shrimp gratin, and Mangalitsa pork with Bordeaux sauce. If you'd care to spend around $50, you can even get a Domino's pizza topped with the highly controversial foie gras.

What else will you find? Domino's Ireland says their most popular topping is the familiar pepperoni, but they add that you can get grilled lamb in the Netherlands, lamb and pickled ginger in India, black bean sauce in Guatemala, squid and shrimp in Taiwan, potatoes in Korea, and capsicum in Australia, because of course you can, it's Australia!

Proceeds founded a Catholic university and town

As a part of Monaghan's plan to set people on the path to Heaven, and "die broke," The New Yorker says he took $250 million from the sale of Domino's and put it into what he called the Ave Maria Foundation. He started out funding elementary schools, but his vision grew into establishing a community and university that would operate under the guidelines of the Catholic faith. Originally destined for Ann Arbor, Monaghan's college met with some serious local pushback, and he ended up partnering with a Florida development company who agreed to give him the land for his university if they could develop the community around it. The college became Ave Maria University, and the town is Ave Maria Town.

There's been a huge number of problems, including controversy over Monaghan's plan to restrict things like contraceptives and what kind of entertainment is available to his town's residents. He'd also opened his law school in Ann Arbor and made the decision to move to Florida without consulting his students or professors, who weren't keen on the idea of packing up and moving. According to Business Insider, growth has been slow, and in spite of Monaghan's insistence the town was welcoming of all faiths, there's only Catholic buildings and imagery.

Domino's hasn't taken a stance on abortion, but the founder has

One of the first — and most important — rules of business is not to alienate potential customers. Domino's — and Monaghan — didn't get the memo, and in 2013 they caused a massive stir when he headed to court in order to go head-to-head with some of the regulations put in place by the Obama administration. According to Life News, Monaghan's stance was that it was "gravely immoral" to require deeply religious business owners to pay for their employees' birth control drugs or drugs that had the potential to cause abortions. He complained it was a violation of his rights, and it's important to note he was arguing on behalf of Domino's Farms, not Domino's Pizza.

It's a distinction not many people could be bothered to make, and Snopes says the relationship between Domino's and Monaghan's controversial beliefs is a complicated one. Domino's official statement is that they have no official stance, and they don't support groups on either side of the abortion debate — it's just good business. But, Snopes also says Domino's sales filled Monaghan's pockets, and then ended up in the coffers of pro-life groups. So, there's that.

They've been accused of some serious wage theft

In 2016, Domino's got hit with a major lawsuit that, according to The Nation, has the potential to revolutionize the workplace for people across the country. The suit was brought by the New York Attorney General's office on behalf of Domino's employees, and it claimed both Domino's corporate and franchise owners hadn't been following the letter of the law when it came to giving out fair tips and overtime pay. It was no accident, either, as the results of a multi-year investigation found the software Domino's uses to keep track of payroll — called PULSE — had been programmed to short employees on their pay.

There were other problems, too, and the suit stated the software allowed corporate to micromanage what went on in franchised locations. The software even issued notices to managers if it was time to discipline or fire an employee, and that sort of management means everyone is liable in the wage theft accusations. It's not just small change, either — 78 percent of stores were ultimately paying less than minimum wage. Domino's defended their practices, but the lawsuit might be one of the catalysts for unionizing food workers.

They dropped their 30-minute delivery guarantee

Domino's 30-minute delivery guarantee is credited with being one of the reasons the business was so successful, but there's no guarantee anymore. What happened?

There are a ton of rumors, including one that a driver hit and killed a child while racing to get a pizza delivered. Snopes says that's not true, at least, not 100 percent. Monaghan announced the end of the 30-minute guarantee in 1993, and the official reason was that he wanted to get rid of "a public perception of reckless driving and irresponsibility."

And while that was the official reason, that perception came from some tragic accidents. In 1989, a 49-year-old woman was hit by a Domino's driver and suffered severe head and spinal injuries (reported The LA Times). And in 1990, a 41-year-old woman was killed in a collision with a Domino's delivery van, a crash that injured her three sons and a friend. So, Domino's never stated death and injury was the reason for dropping their guarantee, and instead said it was due to public perception. Minor details.

There's still been some tragic accidents involving Domino's drivers

Domino's dropped their time guarantee and replaced it with one that relied on quality, but it didn't stop the accidents involving their drivers. In 2013, Forbes reported a Texas family was awarded a $32 million settlement after a delivery driver was involved in an accident that caused the death of a 65-year-old woman and left her husband with permanent brain damage. In 2016, The Orlando Sentinel reported on another Domino's tragedy. Yvonne Wiederhold was awarded $9 million after her husband's death. Richard Wiederhold was involved in a collision with a Domino's driver, a crash that left the district fire chief paralyzed from the chest down with injuries that led to his death 15 months later. Domino's said they intended to appeal the decision, since the driver was an employee of an independent franchise owner.

They created the first purpose-built pizza delivery car

In 2015, Domino's unveiled the results of their latest project, designed to illustrate just how committed to delivery they were. The DXP was a reimagined 2015 Chevrolet Spark, sporting all the gadgets and gizmos needed to make pizza delivery insanely efficient. That included things like a pizza oven that would keep everything at the right temperature, storage compartments for things like soda and dipping sauce, and room for an impressive 80 pizzas.

According to CNet, around 100 DXP delivery vehicles were slated to be delivered within 3 months of the unveil, and they also added Domino's had reached out to Chevrolet dealers to make sure there were, indeed, dealerships around that could service the cars and the huge amount of special tech they'd been loaded with.

They're starting a program to track you when you're on the way to their store

There's no telling where we'd be without the technological advancements that have shaped our world, but even the biggest tech supporters will have to admit Domino's new plans to track their customers is just a little too Big Brother-ish. According to ZDNet, Domino's announced in 2016 they would be adapting the technology they already use to track their drivers' movements to start using it on their Australian customers.

Customers would order a pizza, and if they were heading to the store to pick it up, their GPS would establish a "Cook Zone". When the tracker indicated the customer was in that Cook Zone, Domino's would know it was time to start their pizza so it would be ready — but still piping hot — when they walked in the door. They call it On Time Cooking, and… creepy, or not creepy?

They built a whole ad campaign around how bad their pizza is

After years of success, Domino's hit a huge stumbling block in 2009. A single YouTube video showing employees doing things to a pizza you don't even want to think about eating was almost the last nail in the coffin of a business with failing popularity. Domino's had a brand crisis on their hands, and most people would redouble their efforts to show people why they need to make Domino's their go-to pizza place. But Inc. says they did something risky — they built an entire ad campaign around how bad their pizza was, and then promised to make it better.

And it worked. The response to their campaign where they acknowledged their cardboard pizza was such a success that they did other ads in the same vein, including one where all photos were taken by actual employees, not professionals. That was the idea behind their Instagram, too, says Co. Design, which is filled with slightly stomach-turning pictures of pizza guaranteed to leave you wondering just why you'd order that.

The backhanded campaign could have backfired magnificently, but it endeared Domino's to the new generation of pizza-lovers so much that they turned things around.