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Continued: Schafer: Punch Pizza is happy with slow, steady growth

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 25, 2014 - 4:22 PM

Punch Pizza wasn’t really intended to be either. Soranno wanted to make Neapolitan pizza as it’s made in Italy, where he had lived when he was young. This style of pizza just happens to cook in 55 to 90 seconds at Punch because the wood-fired brick ovens get to over 800 degrees. If the chef pops one in and takes a smoke break, he’s made a mistake.

The original store in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood had table service, and after Puckett joined the business in 2001 they opened a second restaurant in Eden Prairie that had disappointing sales. Puckett said they decided to “double down” and opened a third spot in Minneapolis, but the concept this time was tweaked to have people order at a counter.

It’s still a top-producing location, and it became the Punch model.

One of the reasons Punch is finishing its 18th year in business and has yet to get to 10 restaurants is that Soranno said it takes two years to really master cooking a Punch pizza. New hires aren’t even trusted to make one on their own for about a year.

There are other companies that have shown that slow and steady growth can work, too, and Puckett said they have come to admire a burger version in California called In-N-Out Burger. It hasn’t really changed its menu since its founding in the late 1940s.

The Punch partners plan to go back to California to visit In-N-Out again, and this time Puckett wants to see if he can talk their way into In-N-Out University, the company’s training facility, as Punch has opened its own little Punch University in St. Paul.

While the In-N-Out founding family has appeared to have had its ups and downs, the company is one of the most admired in the industry. Its 31-year-old, third-generation principal owner is said to be worth $800 million.

Thinking long-term like the Californians, the Punch co-owners have started thinking about ownership succession and the other issues family businesses face. Puckett pointed out that when the newest restaurant opens, Punch will be about a $15 million company, hardly a trivial business achievement.

Yes, but a long way to go to reach a value of $800 million.

Said Puckett: “That’ll be up to the third generation.”

lee.schafer@startribune.com • 612-673-4302

  • related content

  • Punch's Borgata pizza, topped with sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, eggplant, saracene olive and basil, is baked in a wood burning oven fired to 800 degrees. The pizzas at Punch cook in 90 seconds.

  • Punch Pizza co-owner John Puckett learned the downside of too-rapid expansion as a co-founder of Caribou Coffee. Punch takes its time with everything, from training cooks to opening new stores.

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