Family Life, Parenting

Paul Mladenka

Occupation: owner of Cou-yon’s and Cork’s Cajun Fried Fish & Shrimp (coming Fall 2022)

Wife: Caroline Mladenka  

Children: Mae-Frances (6), Henry (3)

Hobbies: traveling, fishing, boating


Being in the restaurant industry teaches you a lot about parenting, and Paul Mladenka knows this best. He was only 23 years old when he opened Cou-yon’s, a popular barbeque restaurant in Port Allen and food truck on Perkins and Acadian. This fall, he is opening another restaurant on Government St.: Cork’s Cajun Fried Fish & Shrimp. But, what does this have to do with parenting? Paul’s experience has taught him how to handle high-pressure situations and to set an example for his two young children. He has also learned the importance of being present in his kids’ lives, which is why he strives to be as hands-on with them as possible, regardless of how busy life gets.


What does a normal day look like for you?

PAUL: These days, I’m up early so I can try to exercise as soon as I wake up. I get the kids ready for school–they’re imperative about dad coming upstairs to wake them up–get them ready, drop them off at school, and then make my rounds. I go to Cork’s first and check on progress; from there I check on our busy catering business in Port Allen, where some of our guys have been there since 2-3 am cooking all the meats. I make sure the management team is set up for success, do quality control checks, basically be wherever I need to be. I do my best to be home no later than bathtime. It’s important for me to get back home and be a part of dinner, if I can, and bath and bedtime. I think that’s a special time I definitely don’t want to miss.


What are some of the joys and challenges of raising your children?

Paul: Society is all about instant gratification. When we were growing up we had to watch commercials and wait a little longer for things we wanted to see, but kids now are so used to getting whatever their mind is demanding, as quickly as they can. It’s a challenge to teach them patience, and I just want my kids to be good people. My wife and I are teaching them to be kind and tolerant. My values are more traditional and less progressive than what we see these days, so we’re trying to protect them from the harmful information out there at their fingertips. 

As far as joys go, your whole life you’ll hear that you don’t understand true love until you have kids, and it’s true. Being able to provide for them and see them being happy and enjoying childhood has been a lot of fun. I love watching them develop into real little people that have their own personalities and interests. It’s fun living life through them.


How would you describe yourself as a dad?

PAUL: I think I would describe myself as a fun dad, but my kids know I mean business. I’m very hands-on and serious when I need to be.


What do you like to do as a family?

PAUL: We love traveling, going to the lake together, and going on scavenger hunts around the neighborhood and at the LSU Arboretum. 


What’s your favorite thing about being a dad?

PAUL: Seeing my kids happy brings me so much joy.


What has parenthood taught you?

PAUL: It’s taught me to be more patient and has given me the ability to put others ahead of me. It’s also given me the ability to lighten up a little bit. Sometimes, with kids, you have to have low expectations; things don’t always go according to plan, and when that happens you have to take things as they are, do the best you can, and move forward. There’s always going to be a variable when kids are involved, so you always have to think on your feet and remain calm and collected, whatever the situation may be.


What are some things you hope to teach your children?

PAUL: I hope to teach them the value of a dollar, how to have a strong work ethic, to be kind and thoughtful of others, to be confident, and to always do their best.


What is something your job has taught you about parenting?

PAUL: It’s taught me how to deal with situations on the fly and how unbelievably important it is to set a good example for your children. I regularly remind myself how grateful I am that I had good parents because I see so many people who did not have a strong upbringing, and that sets them up to struggle the rest of their lives. It’s definitely taught me to be hands-on and present with my kids as much as I can, especially during these formative years because I know it’ll affect them for the rest of their lives.


How do you tackle any challenges you face as a dad?

PAUL: First and foremost, I really do my best to think before I react. I want my children to see how important it is to think about what they’re about to do and how they’ll react. I try to be patient and calm and do my best not to overreact to show them how they should handle stressful situations.


How do you make time to relax?

PAUL: That’s something I’m still working on. I’ve always been self motivated; I opened my first business in high school and opened Cou-yons at 23, so with being in the restaurant business and being self-employed, it is hard to relax sometimes. When I do relax, I try to get outside as much as I can. If I’m outdoors with family and friends, that’s about as relaxed as I can get.


What personality trait of yours do your children also have?

PAUL: They’re definitely talkative extroverts like I am.


Do you have any advice for other parents?

PAUL: I’ve learned that different stages have different sets of joys and challenges. Be patient, and be as present and in the moment as you can. Enjoy them as much as you can! The days are long, but the years are fast.


Quick Q&A

My favorite TV show is…The Sopranos 

My favorite dessert is…carrot cake

My favorite food is…fajitas

My favorite holiday is…Christmas

My guilty pleasure is…an ice-cold adult beverage at the end of a hard day

The first thing I do when I wake up is…get coffee started for my wife

I’m always laughing at…my children having fun

My dream travel spot is…the Italian coast

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