Kay Malone Gets an A+ on the Fs: Family, Food and Football
Article by Ann Jane Draper & Portraits by Martin G Meyers
Raising four kids while juggling the busy schedule of a successful, famous husband, it’s safe to say a woman’s life can get a bit hectic from time to time. That’s even more true of a woman married to a sports legend. And it’s to be expected of any mother of four. You’d also expect the mother of standout students–and, predictably, student athletes–to stay constantly on the move.
All of this is true, and these are the realities of the life of Kay Malone, wife of NBA great Karl Malone, a retired Utah Jazz power forward. Their son Karl Junior, or K.J., is a redshirted freshman football player at LSU. Karlee is a student at Cedar Creek. Their remaining two daughters, Kylee and Kadee, also have busy lives of their own. Yet, somewhere between carpool and dinner, Kay was able to take the time to sit down with BayouLife and share with us the lessons and insights she’s gained from a life on the move. She laughs when asked how she manages all of the kids’ and Karl’s busy lives while still, miraculously, managing a thriving restaurant. “I always make sure to preserve some ‘me’ time,” Kay says.
Maybe it’s a trip to the salon or just sitting down to read. Sometimes, it’s shopping, and even sometimes it’s work related, but Kay says its important to carve out the minutes and hours needed to attend the things that are important to her, be it praying, walking or taking a hike. “You’ve got to make the time for those things every day, because if you don’t make that time for yourself, you forget so many things about yourself.”
Her most valuable times, though, are the hours she spends with family, around the dinner table of their home in Lincoln Parish. Any time the family is together, she makes sure dinner is on the table–at either six or seven, depending again on sports schedules. Drop by the Malone house pretty much any night, and you’ll find Kay and Karl, their daughters Karlee, Kylee and Kadee, and when he’s in town, K.J. Her step-children are regulars around the table, too. And then comes the extended family, the cousins with whom the children have grown up. And the friends. “There are always a few stragglers,” Kay says. Over the years, she’s gotten so used to a full house, she barely notices when a half-dozen others drop by for dinner. She recalled one evening when only Karlee was home. She was surprised to find several friends of her other children–all away–around the table. “I pointed out Karlee was the only one there. They said, ‘It’s okay. We’re just used to it, Miss Kay!'”
Born and raised by a mother who didn’t speak English and a father in the U.S. Military, Kay saw a lot of the world as the family moved from Hawaii to Idaho to California to Texas. She met Karl in Utah, when he was playing for the Jazz. (She’s a former Miss Idaho herself.) Following Karl’s retirement, they located in northeastern Louisiana, to be closer to friends and family. But something was missing. She liked good food – the wholesome, rich, fresh flavors of her childhood in her Filipino mother’s kitchen. “When I moved here, I couldn’t find a good, fresh alternative to eat out,” Kay says.
One day, she and Karl were visiting with NFL great Mike Keim, a hunting buddy of Karl’s who frequently visits northern Louisiana. Keim owns several restaurants in Utah, and he suggested she open a franchise of Teri Yaki Grill. So the busy mother of four, wife of an NBA legend, added one more thing to her plate: restaurateur. She’s been in love with the business ever since. “I like to visit with the people, to get to know them, to talk to the customers,” she says. She’s there almost every day and, if you take the time to say “hi,” you’ll leave feeling like you know her. Karl’s often there, too. And when Keim’s in town, you’ll just as soon find the two men in the kitchen–an image Kay says tends to raise eyebrows. “Mike’s 7’ and Karl is 6’9″. Having them working in the back, people walk in, see them and they’re just floored!” she says with a laugh.
One thing is certain, though. Kay knows her limits. She says she’s frequently asked to bring Teri Yaki Grill to Monroe, a request she always politely dismisses. The move would take away from time with family, time with friends and that precious “me” time she carves out. “I would be on the road more than I would be at home,” she says. So she limits herself to the one location, in Ruston, where she can talk to her customers. After all, talking is one of her favorite pasttimes. Just ask her children’s friends, who’ve often fallen under her “FBI interrogation style” of conversation.
“I ask them tons of questions,” she says. “I want to get to know them.”
Karl spends time getting to know them, too. Especially, Kay says, the young men their three daughters bring home. Karl’s ritual, according to Kay, is to bring a young suitor into the family’s great room, where Karl keeps his hunting trophies. He’ll ask the young man if he’s an outdoorsman–and the young man almost always gives an enthusiastic “yes!” Then, Karl points to a blank spot high up over the room. “He says, ‘You see that little blank space up there? It could be you if you don’t treat my daughter right.'” And with that, Kay bursts out laughing.
It’s just one glimpse inside the world of Kay Malone, wife, mother, entrepreneur and it’s hardly the tip of the iceberg. Thankfully, Kay agreed to spend a little more time with us, to share some insights, and to answer a few questions. Here’s what she had to say about mastering the three Fs–Family, Food, and Football.
Q: You have four children, three stepchildren, own a restaurant, exercise regularly, entertain regularly, cook regularly, travel regularly. We must know your tips to balancing it all.
A: Focus and family keep me afloat, as does healthy food. My mom grew up in a hut in the Philippines with no running water, and she spoke little English. Communication was absolutely key for our family unit. She also had to grow her own vegetables and cook for her immediate family. This sense of providing for your family was instilled in me as were family traditions. When you move a lot like we did for my dad’s job, there were few consistencies; however, my mom tried to keep the focus on communication, family and fresh food made with love. I guess I’ve instilled the importance of family and often, family traditions that involve food with my own kids.
Q: What are some of your family traditions?
A: Gathering family each Sunday and for every holiday is our tradition. Every Sunday after church, we have brunch. We eat, we talk and we do it all over again the next Sunday. It centers us and keeps us connected. Because my kids grew up in the company of cousins, they more often choose to invite family over friends to their games and birthday parties. We also eat dinner as an immediate family as often as possible, which helps keep the dialog flowing and seems to calm the chaos, which is key in a household with this many kids!
Q: Food is a common theme throughout your life. Tell us where this came from and why “breaking bread” is so much more than the act of eating.
A: My mom, who passed away in 2000, was an exceptional cook. We grew up eating all the traditional dishes from the Philippines, and I learned to love flavors from across the world. I also learned that food brings people together…and it also requires us to be responsible with our eating habits. As the wife of a basketball player and a former Miss Idaho, I’ve wanted to keep fit, but I’ve adjusted my goals to be realistic as I’ve aged. I also always knew that inevitably my kids were going to model what I ate, so it was important to eat healthy and stay active, which encouraged them to have a positive perspective on health as well.
Q: Tell us about Teri Yaki Grill?
A: When Karl was playing for the Utah Jazz, and we lived in Salt Lake City, I would eat at the local Teri Yaki Grill and LOVED it. The fresh vegetables and simple ingredients reminded me of my mom’s cooking. I was so passionate about their food and the business that I opened one in Ruston. Every restaurant seemed to only serve fried foods. Nothing fresh and fast existed, so we’ve been able to fill a hole in the market. In essence, it’s a delicious, quick and healthy alternative to fast food. I’m there every day and many of our employees are business students at Tech. Just like with my own kids, I’m finding that I have the opportunity to encourage these kids to push for their degrees, to go after their dreams.
Q: Tell us about your experience as Miss Idaho.
A: So funny. I really never had much interest in the pageant circuit, but my mom watched the Miss Universe pageant on television one year and saw a flyer for entering a state pageant as well. She insisted that I enter, so to please her, I did. I won runner up my first try and then Miss Idaho the following year. I then went on to Miss USA, which ultimately opened so many doors. I chose to look at the pageant participation as confidence training, interview after interview with interesting people across the state of Idaho.
Q: You seem to very much have a “can do” “let’s try” it attitude.
A: Well, thank you. I’d say this is true. I am somewhat of an adventure seeker and have tried to instill this “can do” attitude in my kids as well. We have a home in St. George, Utah, and twice a year, we hike and repel in the near-by Zion National Park. This is my absolute “happy place,” and I’ve encouraged each of my kids to push themselves and repel with me—to fight their fears. And each time, they’re grateful for the encouragement to try something new, to overcome their fear.
Q: We’ll add hiking and repelling to your list of adventures and hobbies. What else fills your soul?
A: FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL. Most people probably think that because I’m married to Karl that basketball would be my favorite sport. I do like it, but I’m a self-proclaimed die-hard LSU fan. Our son plays for LSU now, and I simply can’t get enough. I grew up loving football and was a cheerleader, so football was an early love for me. We try to go to all of his games, and I’m probably the loudest cheerleader of them all. And this won’t be very popular, but I love the Dallas Cowboys. From my days living in San Antonio, I grew to be a huge fan of the team and follow them during the regular season. As for other hobbies, I love antiquing. I collect milk glass and decorate my entire house with it. I’ve started collections for each of my girls and just love that for holidays, I just have to change out a few things for seasonal color, and my milk glass shines. A Utah neighbor gifted milk glass to me one time, and I was instantly in love! Oh, and I love bow hunting and target shooting, too. Random, I realize, but when you live in North Louisiana, it’s probably not that odd.