Caribou creator, Punch Pizza co-owner talks success

MINNEAPOLIS - The recipe for a successful business starts with one word: passion.

Just out of business school, John and Kim Puckett knew they wanted to work at something they felt passionate about. And then, during a trip to Alaska, the idea gelled; start a chain of coffee shops geared to the T-shirt wearing, casual customer that just wants a quick, good cup of coffee.

So, the Pucketts launched Caribou Coffee in 1992. They raised about $40,000 and daringly spent most of it on graphic design, according to John.

"We just thought we needed to look like we were a player, and so when we opened our first store, the store looked like it was put together."

That store on 44th and France would be the first of more than 100 stores the Pucketts would build in less than 10 years. Then in 2000, they sold the chain for more than $80 million dollars.

But, John's entrepreneurial spirit wouldn't be dormant for long. After he and Kim spent a few date nights at a Punch Pizza restaurant in their area, he knew he had found his next calling. So, he contacted the owner, John Sorrano, and the two joined forces to run the Minnesota-based chain.

Punch is known for its Neopolitan-style pizza made with fresh, natural ingredients, baked briefly to perfection in hand-built ovens that are named after towns in Naples, Italy. Everything about this pizza is authentic and its taste is all about the details. In fact, employees are required to work at the company for at least a year before they can actually cook a pizza. And, every pizza made at a Punch Pizza is digitally photographed to ensure consistency and quality.

According to Puckett, all of the above is necessary to differentiate them from the competition, "Not only are we competitive, and I like to beat the competition, but we think we have something that is truly, genuinely better."

The company also recently received mention by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address, praising the Punch Pizza $10 per hour starting wage policy. It was a decision that has had positive impact on the business in many ways, says Puckett.

"I think the impact on our culture and our commitment to quality, when you make that type of investment in people, you can just feel it in the stores."

In business now for more than two decades, John not only has great appreciation for the business climate here, but also for the support entrepreneurs receive here in the Twin Cities.

"People here don't just put their money in CDs, they really invest in other entrepreneurs. It's a very approachable community that really has a lot of pride in the local market."

And when it comes to advice for other entrepreneurs, John says it's all about coming up with that initial, good idea and sticking to it.

"Pick one or two things and do them as best as anyone in the world, and concentrate on that, and customers will find you."


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