Pizza Chain Expects Shout-Out In State Of The Union

A couple of years after President Barack Obama referenced Warroad-based Marvin Windows and Doors during a major speech, Punch Pizza was invited to Washington and is expecting a shout-out as well.

Punch Pizza, a local pizza chain with eight locations and roughly 300 employees, said Tuesday afternoon that its founder was invited to attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, and a company spokesman said that Punch Pizza is expecting a shout-out.

Punch Pizza founder and co-owner John Soranno, along with employee Nick Chute, will be present at the ceremony as personal guests of First Lady Michele Obama, and the company expects its name will be explicitly referenced during the president's Tuesday evening speech, the company spokesman told Twin Cities Business. The White House confirmed in a press release that Soranno and Chute will be seated in a box along with the First Lady, although it didn't reference the content of the speech itself.

Such a mention would be in recognition of Punch's December announcement that it raised the minimum wage for all of its entry-level employees to $10 per hour, well above the state's minimum wage. The move came amid a debate among Minnesota lawmakers about whether to increase the state's minimum wage.

And it appears Obama is focusing on minimum wage levels, ahead of his Tuesday evening speech. The White House on Tuesday announced that Obama will use an executive action to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts for services.

Punch wouldn't be the first Minnesota business to be singled out by Obama during a major speech. In 2011, the president praised Warroad-based Marvin Windows and Doors for the company's commitment to making sacrifices in order to avert layoffs during the recession. Some pointed out at the time that Marvin had a history of supporting Republican candidates and causes.

Punch Pizza co-owner John Puckett said in a statement that his company's decision to lift its minimum wage “had nothing to do with politics—that’s what makes the recognition by the President and First Lady such an honor.”

The company said its investment in higher wages will cost about $3 million over the next decade. All cooks are paid at least $12 per hour while the most skilled of them are paid “at a level equivalent of more than $30,000” per year, the company said. Experienced general managers, meanwhile, are paid $100,000 annually.

Soranno said the investment in employees constitutes smart business practices. “As we continue to grow Punch, we recognize that only the most dedicated employees will position us to compete and maintain the highest quality food and the best service in the market,” he said in a statement.

Punch was founded in the Highland neighborhood of St. Paul. The company, known for its Neapolitan-style pizza, opened its eighth store in Woodbury last year and will open a store in Maple Grove this May.