The minute Paul Mier hits the door on Tuesday mornings, he starts cooking red beans and rice at Cajun Catch Restaurant & Boucherie.
The Zachary restaurant's Tuesday lunch special is served with two marinated, boneless fried pork chops, sweet cornbread and peach cobbler. The cost: $7.95.
Surprised at the price? It's how Mier is making his restaurant a success in these pandemic times.
"COVID has been a really tough scenario for the restaurant industry," Mier said. "Our business was cut by 30% in the beginning, so we added a drive-through and decided to put some specials on the menu, true Cajun dishes. We made sure we put them together for less than 10 bucks. It's a value meal and it's a quality meal."
Business picked up and continues to thrive.
"Some people ask me how we're still getting the volume of customers compared to other restaurants," Mier said. "You have to come down and feed the customers. If the customer is struggling, and you're struggling for business, you have to make it work. Besides that, business has been unusually steady."
Mier co-owns Cajun Catch with his wife, Kayla, and sister and brother-in-law, Rachel and Jeffery Gruner. They opened Cajun Catch in 2016, moving to the current location at 4317 High St. in July 2019.
Mier is the head cook, arriving early with the staff to prepare other daily lunch specials such as shrimp étouffée with fried shrimp, country fried rib-eye steak and chicken and sausage gumbo.
He credits manager Novie Nations with helping to make the restaurant's daily meals a success, taking a cue from what customers love and consolidating the menu to make it more efficient.
"We know our clientele," Mier said. "They want a quality product with a nice price point, and they want their money's worth. We're not high end by any means. We're always trying to find the spot between Raising Cane's and Parrain's — the middle of two great businesses."
Cajun Catch also features a butcher shop of meats, mostly from the Midwest.
"The boucherie aspect of the restaurant is a lagniappe business," Mier said. "When customers come in and look down and see a steak, if they want it, we'll send it to the grill. Like I said, we're not a high end restaurant, but we have a boucherie in-house, and we're fresh grinding all of our meats and steaks and filets here."
Mier has been in the specialty meats business for 15 years, and, before opening the restaurant, worked as a registered nurse at Lane Regional Medical Center while catering on the side.
"Something kept pulling me into the business," Mier said. "Nursing is very tough, and being a registered nurse, you have to work a lot of long hours. I felt like I was missing a lot with my family. I have two teenage daughters, and I decided one day to go into business."
Mier slowly weaned himself from nursing, decreasing his hours from full-time to part-time to weekends only.
"I finally just hung it up because the business was growing too big too fast," he said. "I didn't have time to do them both. And cooking was always my true love."
Mier attributes that love to his family. His mother and father moved to Zachary from the Acadia Parish town of Iota, bringing their Cajun cooking traditions with them.
"Were my mama and daddy professional cooks? No. But is it right to say cooking is in my blood? Yeah," he said. "And is it right to say I know a lot of skilled Cajun cooks, and it comes from their bloodline, heritage and where they were raised? Yeah."
The restaurant's owners created their own real estate company to find and buy the High Street lot for Cajun Catch.
Most people think olive oil is, well, olive oil.
"We built our building," Mier said. "We put a rush order on it, because daddy was very sick with Parkinson's. Every time I saw him, he said, 'You need to hurry up, I want to see it.' The week before we opened, we set a table for our family. It was his last supper with everybody. He said, 'This place is beautiful,' and a month later he was gone."
Plans are to open other locations in the Baton Rouge area, but for now, Mier is focusing on his Zachary eatery and finding ways to give back to the community, from sponsoring youth sports to advising youngsters on starting their own businesses. He also spearheaded Zachary businesses' post-hurricane relief efforts for Lake Charles and Alabama last fall.
"We live by the motto of our parents," Mier said. "Our business is successful, so we give back and help others. It's also a Cajun tradition, and the Cajuns are just giving people."