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November 1, 2014

What will shout-out from Obama deliver for Punch Pizza?

A Minnesota-based pizza chain got the kind of exposure money can’t buy. Punch Pizza was in the spotlight Tuesday night during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Fox 9 had the story as the chief executive praised the pizzeria management’s voluntary decision to raise its hourly wage for employees to $10 an hour.

Just about every Minnesota news organization focused on the mention, and a fair number of national ones, including Forbes magazine, did too. But what is it worth to get that kind of publicity? In both the long run and the short term, will it help Punch Pizza move more pies in its eight metro-area restaurants?

Facebook and Twitter were full of posts and tweets from Punch nuts. Some mentioned the company’s wage policy, but more seemed to be reminded of how good a slice of the well-reviewed Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza would taste. Right now.

“This is unprecedented. We were on the global stage,” Jenny Nyquist, Punch Pizza’s operation director told BringMeTheNews around noon. “We are having a really good lunch crowd today, and have called in staff to be prepared for more business. We hope this exposure will make people want to try our pizza for the first time or bring them back in again.”

“Will it have a long-term impact? I don’t know about that,” Dave Hopkins, managing director at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, told BringMeTheNews. “This gives Punch positive name-recognition and a unique touchpoint for their brand. And this positive spin may help them attract and retain top people, which was their business objective for raising wages in the first place.”

Obama is not Punch’s first high-profile fan. Academy Award winner Meryl Streep praised Punch for its signature dish, not the shop’s workplace policies. The Pioneer Press had a quote from the actress, who spent time in St. Paul while filming the movie “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2006. “I honestly think it’s the best pizza I ever ate,” she gushed. “I went to Italy right after I finished and I didn’t find any pizza that was as good.”

TwinCitiesBusiness recalled that a few years ago, Obama referenced Warroad-based Marvin Windows and Doors during a major speech, noting the company’s commitment to making sacrifices in order to avert layoffs. Some pointed out Marvin’s history of supporting Republican candidates and causes.

In the long run, the mention may not alter Punch’s future. On Jan. 25, the Star Tribune published a business story reporting that the chain owners are happy with their current size and did not envision a major expansion, despite the ever-growing consumer hunger for fast casual pizza. “Punch could raise a bunch of capital and jump into the land rush, but co-owner and founder John Soranno always knew he wanted nothing to do with that kind of plan. His partner John Puckett doesn’t, either,” the story said, noting that the ninth Punch Pizza will open in Maple Grove later this year, but no other outlets are scheduled.

The President’s mention couldn’t come at a better time. “All businesses have suffered during this cold snap,” said Punch’s Nyquist. “This helps us at the end of a slow month.”