Our story so far: Mike Clements heads to Mexico for a cruise booked long before he and his cousin Frank Connell opened their Northwest Washington restaurant. Frank will have to run the Red Bean alone for two weeks. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures. If you think you would be a good candidate for this series, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before leaving for Mexico, Mike Clements gave the Red Bean's waitresses careful instructions on accounting for each night's receipts. I'm not letting Frank count the money, Mike explained.
Frank, 44, is the first to admit that dependability has never been his strength. He's always been a free spirit. "I'd rather just be irresponsible," he says.
Still, Frank knew he had to step up in Mike's absence: keeping the restaurant clean, purchasing food and supplies, paying the bills. Given the restaurant's dire financial situation, the bill paying would be a challenge.
A few days after Mike left, Frank was surprised to discover about $1,500 in the restaurant's bank account, he says. He hadn't realized that customers' credit card transactions get deposited directly into the account. Frank quickly decided to use the money to pay the cook and the dishwasher.
"Good news," Frank said to Fernando Palacios, the cook. "I have money for you." Frank handed him a check for $800. Fernando started to put it in his pocket. "Cash it as quickly as you can," Frank suggested. Fernando left the restaurant and headed straight for the bank.
Sometimes, Frank's frustrations got the better of him. He threw two large coffee dispensers into the dumpster. "They never worked right," Frank says. Coffee sloshed all over the place. According to one waitress, however, the dispensers worked just fine; it was Frank who was having the problem. Now, when a customer at the Red Bean orders coffee, Frank or a waitress runs to Tonic, the restaurant next door. Frank says that every so often he's going to pay Tonic's owner $20 for the coffee.
Mike came back a day early, presenting Frank with a black knit poncho and some cheap cigarettes. Frank, who says he'd never worked so hard in his life, was thrilled to see his cousin. "If I kept going at this pace, I would totally burn out," says Frank, who's come to an important conclusion: "I'm just not cut out for this."
Frank tells Mike that he wants a more limited role in the restaurant. He's going to give Mike a majority share of the business -- partly to make Frank feel less weighed down by responsibility and partly to make it easier for the Red Bean to get a beer-and-wine license.
"I'm just going to be the busboy," Frank says with satisfaction. He says he's through worrying about money, which has a "draining ability to cause huge stress in your life."
Two days after Mike's return, Frank stands in the Red Bean at the height of the dinner rush. Tortillas sizzle in the kitchen, while a dozen customers sit in the dining room. Goodbye, Frank says to Mike. See you later, says Mike.
It's Frank's first night off in weeks. As he walks away from the Red Bean, he stops by an ATM to check the restaurant's account balance: almost negative $15. "Damn," he says under his breath, and crumples the receipt.
-- Tyler Currie