What’s Your Worth?

The day after Thanksgiving, I set the oven to 425 and opened a box of pizza rolls. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but this act of pseudo-baking (thawing, really) seemed the best way to mark the passing of the Minnesotan who had died the previous day: Jeno Paulucci, creator of the pizza roll.

It’s not hyperbole to say Paulucci lived the American dream. He grew up poor near Hibbing, the son of Italian immigrants. His father, injured in the mines, was unable to work; his mother ran a grocery. In the 1940s, Paulucci noticed a growing interest in Chinese takeout and, with $2,500 borrowed from a friend, launched Chun King, a line of prepared Chinese-food products. In 1968, he began marketing frozen pizzas under his own name. And in the 1990s, pushing 80, he founded yet another firm: a frozen-entrées business named after his mother, Michelina.

The Duluth businessman’s inventions made him wealthy. He sold Chun King for $63 million in 1966, and later unloaded Jeno’s (now Totino’s) for $135 million. He once appeared on Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Not all his ideas (a chopsticks factory, a magazine for Italian-Americans) succeeded financially, of course. But one gets the sense that Paulucci didn’t much care: hatching the ideas—a slice of pizza inside an egg roll!—was half the fun. Profit was only a part of the picture.

Pizza rolls aren’t nuclear fusion, and Paulucci wasn’t Steve Jobs. But Paulucci did shape the way Americans ate. Parties were more fun. Microwaves got more use. (And yes, arteries got clogged.) But as I waited for my newly baked batch of pepperoni rolls to cool, it occurred to me that there might be a lesson in Paulucci’s biography—especially for readers of our cover story on salaries.

Our “Salary Survey,” offers a snapshot of the incomes of more than 200 Minnesotans from all walks of life. It’s worth recalling, however, that while such figures are fascinating, they’re just one measure of a person. Paulucci is remembered today not for his accumulation of wealth, but for his creative accomplishments—pizza rolls and more. What mattered, in the end, was not what he made, but what he made.

Joel Hoekstra, Editor


Jesse Knish Jesse Knish is a self-taught photographer and cinematographer whose work has been published in such magazines as Vogue and InStyle. When he’s not snapping photos, Knish enjoys discovering new restaurants, traveling, and attending music festivals. His work can be seen in this month’s “The Refusers.” Knish says the story was one of the most emotionally challenging projects he’s done.
Andy Steiner Andy Steiner is a regular contributor to Minnesota Monthly. For this month’s profile, “Get on the Bus,” Steiner spent time getting to know St. Paul Public Schools superintendent Valeria Silva, and says she was impressed with Silva’s determination to never talk about work at home. Steiner’s writing can also be found in such publications as Fitness, Self, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Delta Sky.
Michael Witte Michael Witte is a native of St. Louis and a graduate of Princeton University. He began his career as a cartoon artist at TIGER, Princeton’s humor magazine. Today, his work can be seen in such publications as the New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and the Atlantic, as well as this month’s feature, “Loonies.” When he’s not drawing, Witte can be found playing tennis or analyzing baseball mechanics.


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