President Obama spotlights Punch Pizza for raising wages

Punch Pizza founder John Soranno Credit:

President Barack Obama singled out Punch Pizza founder John Soranno in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night for raising starting wages for workers to $10 an hour.

Soranno and Punch Pizza kitchen worker Nick Chute attended the address as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Punch Pizza recently increased workers’ wages at its eight Twin Cities locations — a change that boosted pay for more than 80 percent of the company’s employees.

“In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs,” Obama said. “Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make more of the dough. Only now he makes more of it.”

Obama urged other business and community leaders across the country to follow Soranno’s lead.

“To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say you don’t have to wait for Congress to act — Americans will support you if you take this on,” he said.

Soranno, who grew up in Milan, Italy, moved to the United States to finish his academic studies. He founded Punch Pizza in 1996 with the first location in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Punch plans to open its ninth restaurant this summer.

Chute started working as a cashier at Punch Pizza a year and a half ago to help pay for school and rent. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in December. He’s a “pizzaioli in training,” which means he’s becoming in expert in cooking traditional Neapolitan style pizza. He hopes to eventually move into management, according to a statement from the White House Press Office.

He praised the company’s decision to increase wages. “I appreciate it, and it makes me feel like a bigger part of the company,” he said.

Minnesota’s minimum wage is $6.15 an hour — one of the lowest in the country.

Mayor Betsy Hodges also attended the State of the Union as a guest of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. She commended the president for highlighting Punch Pizza.

“It’s another reminder that when we invest in each other’s success, out communities thrive,” she said. “For mayors across America, President Obama is our greatest partner. He knows that given the gridlock in Congress, cities are where we can make progress on the goal of reducing inequality. I thank him for his partnership and look forward to continuing work with his Administration to advance our common goals.”