Punch Pizza raises its minimum wage to $10 an hour

For nearly 90 percent of the Punch Pizza staff, Monday must have seemed like Christmas come early, as their company raised its minimum wage by about $2.50 and distributed similar raises to the staff.

See also: McDonald's to leave the skyways in both downtowns

The minimum wage has been a hotly discussed topic in 2013, especially within the restaurant industry. Just yesterday, fast-food workers across the country went on strike over low wages, and this year, the Minnesota state legislature tensely debated a minimum wage hike to $9.50, drawing a significant amount of vitriol from both sides of the issue.

As the man behind two different Minnesota-based companies in the restaurant field -- Punch Pizza and Caribou Coffee -- John Puckett knows a thing or two about business, and he thinks the decision to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour makes solid business sense. The theory he and his partner John Soranno have adopted is that by paying better wages, they will attract better workers, keep their staff for longer, and rustle up higher levels of workplace satisfaction, which they believe will lead to better service for customers.

"We didn't do this lightly," Puckett says. "We studied Costco, and what they've done with their employee pay and overtime, and they really believe it's paid off."

They've also looked within the restaurant industry for examples. In the case of beloved California-based fast-food chain In-and-Out Burger, Puckett points out that the company has paid significantly higher than minimum wage for the last 40 years, and it's been great for their brand.

"It's amazing, you go to an In-and-Out store and you don't think you're in fast food," he says. "The people are so friendly and the stores are so clean. In-and-Out Burger talks a lot about their pay as one of the reasons they have better people and they keep their people longer."

Still, with everyone from high school-aged busboys to experienced cooks and assistant managers getting raises, Puckett is realistic about his company's unique opportunity to take this risk.

"It's nice because the business is owned by my partner and me, so we don't have outside shareholders," Puckett says. "It's a little easier for us to make this investment, because we don't have to get approval, and we don't have to worry about quarterly earnings."

As the co-founder of Caribou Coffee, Puckett has seen many sides of the industry, and says he's aware of the potential pitfalls. "It's definitely a leap of faith," he says. "It is not going to be good for earnings in the short term, but we think by investing in our people, we'll have the best service and attract the best people."

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