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Lake Minnetonka Living, July/August 2007

John Puckett weighs in on Pizza, Passion and Punch

By Kelly Westhoff

There’s a new eatery in town. On any day of the week, a line forms inside Wayzata’s Punch Pizza as customers patiently wait to place their orders. It’s easy to see that Lake Minnetonka area residents are falling in love with these unique pies served straight from a wood-burning oven.

At Punch, pizzas are tossed, topped and fired before the customer’s eyes following strict traditions. Punch serves Neapolitan-style pizza, which for many first-time customers can be disorienting. Unlike many American pizza brands that boast cheese hidden within folds of crust and abundant meat, Punch specializes in pizza based on recipes straight from Naples, Italy, which means the dough is thin and the topping are sparse.

Yet the taste has been certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana, an Italian organization responsible for regulating the techniques used in making Neapolitan pizza. More often than not, the taste also wins over skeptics.

John Puckett, co-owner of Punch, knows this type of pizza isn’t for everyone. “We do get customers asking us to put chicken, pineapple or Canadian bacon on our pizzas,” he admits. However, customers shouldn’t look for a Hawaiian, Southwestern or taco pizza on the menu anytime soon. None of those pies would meet with his business partner’s approval, Puckett says.

Punch is run by two men named John. John Puckett bought into Punch, but the company was started by John Serrano, who spent part of his childhood in Italy, which is where he encountered Neapolitan-style pizza. Back in the United States, Serrano opened the first Punch location in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Even though the company has since expanded to five locations, including the new Wayzata store, Serrano maintains control of the menu.

“My partner is really the genius behind the pizza,” Puckett says. “I just try not to screw up what he comes up with.” Instead, Puckett handles the “front of the house,” explaining he enjoys customer service. Puckett also works with the company’s financial systems.

If his past professional success is any indication of his future business savvy, Punch Pizza has much to gain from Puckett’s buy-in. Puckett and his wife Kimberly, who live in Orono, are the couple that started Caribou Coffee.

Even if they couldn’t pick Puckett out in a crowd, most Twin Cities residents are familiar with the story behind Caribou’s founding. While the company has since been sold, framed pictures of the Pucketts sitting atop a snow-covered mountain still grace many a Caribou walls. It was during a vacation to Alaska that the couple decided they wanted out of the corporate world, and thus opened a coffee shop.

Yet their coffee shop soon morphed into its own corporation. “We started Caribou in ’92 and sold it in 2001,” Puckett says, explaining that Seattle-based Starbucks did try to buy the company early on.

“The only way Caribou was going to survive was by growing really hard,” Puckett says. The company burst into a flurry of activity and expansion, opening locations as far away as Atlanta. The tactic worked, at least close to home. “Minnesota is the only market in the world, in the world,” he emphasizes, “where Starbucks doesn’t dominate the coffee scene.”

In the end, however, the world of coffee proved stressful and the Pucketts got out. Yet their entrepreneurial spirit still thrived. After selling Caribou, the Pucketts bought half ownership in Punch.

The remainder of this article can be found in the July/August 2007 issue of Lake Minnetonka Living magazine.

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