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The Adventures of Frank

A continuing saga

Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page W10

Our story so far: Today, Frank Connell says goodbye to Magazine readers after sharing his high-stakes plunge into the restaurant business for the past five months. Next week, we begin spending a season with Maggie Lonergan, head coach of Catholic University's women's basketball team. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.


They finally got the liquor license -- a piece of paper that could help breathe new life into the beleaguered Red Bean. Now Frank Connell and his cousin Mike Clements have a use for the glass cooler near the soda machine. Mike has stocked it with beer: Budweiser in a bottle, Budweiser in a can, Bud Light and two flavors of Abita, a Louisiana brew, to match the restaurant's Cajun theme.

Frank Connell.

Mike props himself against the counter, wearing a loose, white button-down shirt. A trio of customers sits in front of him; each is gripping a bottle of beer and studying a menu. The cases of booze weren't delivered until 4 p.m., Mike says. "I was worried that they wouldn't come at all." The order cost about $500, and Mike had to scrape together the money to cover the bill.

He steps from behind the counter to greet two new customers at the door. "Is Frank here?" one of them asks.

"No, not tonight," Mike says.

Frank isn't especially happy about missing this milestone at the Red Bean. But the past several weeks, with the liquor license up in the air and the restaurant's future on the line, have been exhausting both physically and emotionally, he says. He desperately needed some downtime to recover.

"This has been a long process," Frank explains. "In January, we started the actual negotiation process and gave [the landlord] money, and then the construction began. That took longer than it should have, cost more than I thought it was going to . . . I started [the business] with double all my estimated costs, and it still wasn't enough. It wasn't enough for operating costs. That's why these last three months have just been such total Hell. It's discouraging for anybody to go to work every day and not get paid. How depressing is that?"

Frank says that being the subject of this series hasn't always helped his mood. "I wake up on Saturdays, and I'm, like, 'Oh, God, what's it going to be this week?' . . . My mom, some weeks, has said, '[The writer is] making you look like an idiot.' And I'm, like, 'Mom, well, sometimes I am an idiot.' "

Frank adds, however, that the publicity has boosted business and reconnected him to people from his past. "All my friends from high school, my old neighbors, call me up and come by. For a while, there was a star guest every night, somebody different that I hadn't seen in 20 years."

Back at the Red Bean, Mike has counted the night's receipts. "It was very encouraging," he says. "Every table drank. That meant about an extra $100."

The Red Bean still has a pulse, however faint. "I'd give anything to get on the bus tomorrow and head for New York, be anonymous somewhere without responsibilities," says Frank, once the consummate nomad. "But, like I said, now we have our liquor license. I figure next year we should be pretty solvent . . . It's gonna be -- I hope it's gonna be -- different."

-- Tyler Currie

© 2004 The Washington Post Company