Washington – President Obama praised one of the Twin Cities' favorite pizzerias during his State of the Union address.
Punch Pizza founder and co-owner John Soranno and kitchen worker Nick Chute attended Tuesday's State of the Union address as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama — a month after all eight of Punch's Twin Cities' locations raised the minimum wage for employees to $10 an hour.
In prepared remarks, President Obama said: "In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here tonight with his boss, John Soranno. John's an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his employees a raise, to 10 bucks an hour — and that's a decision that has eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.
"Tonight, I ask more of America's business leaders to follow John's lead: Do what you can to raise your employees' wages."
Punch Pizza's announcement came Dec. 10, the same day that thousands of workers took to the streets in cities across the country to rally for a raise in the minimum wage.
The Twin Cities-based company's decision to boost pay for its 300 workers encapsulated one of the narratives of Obama's speech: boosting middle-class prosperity.
Soranno, a St. Paul resident, founded Punch Pizza in 1996.
A recent University of Minnesota graduate and a Minneapolis resident, Chute started working at Punch Pizza about 18 months ago, the White House said. He is a cook now, but hopes to move into management.
"Our decision had nothing to do with politics," said co-owner John Puckett. "That's what makes the recognition by the president and first lady such an honor. Punch made the decision to give raises purely based on what is best for our business and our employees."
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell