The Adventures of Frank
Introducing Frank Connell
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page W04
Our story so far: No matter how quiet or dramatic, ordinary or unusual, every person's life is an unfolding narrative, with its own cliffhangers, surprises, touching revelations. We have decided to prove the point by asking everyday people to let us write about their lives. Last week, Freddy Williams said goodbye to Magazine readers after sharing his world for four months. This week, meet Frank Connell, a 43-year-old free spirit who is preparing to open a restaurant in Northwest Washington.
Frank Connell slams his fist on the steering wheel of his mother's red Nissan.
"I'm in total financial hell," he says furiously, driving home from his bank, where he's just learned that his business loan hasn't been approved yet.
For the last three months, Frank says, he has poured almost every cent he has into renovating a historic storefront on Mount Pleasant Street NW into a restaurant called the Red Bean. The decorating is done. Most of the kitchen equipment is in place. The menu, which will feature Cajun/Tex-Mex cuisine, has been finalized. Before opening, though, Frank and his 27-year-old cousin and business partner, Mike Clements, need one last infusion of cash. So, Frank has applied for a $20,000 business loan, but, unlike Frank, the bank doesn't seem to be in any hurry.
To open, Frank also needs a so-called clean-hands certificate, saying that he doesn't owe the city any money. "Which, of course, I do," Frank says. Old parking tickets -- about $200 worth. "I'm never going to own a car again," he mutters. "I'm just not responsible enough."
Frank has never owned a restaurant. Matter of fact, he hasn't even worked in one. When he graduated from Arlington's Yorktown High School in 1978, he didn't go to college like his two older brothers.
Instead, he got a license to sell real estate. He was 18 at the time and claims he was the youngest agent in Virginia. He didn't stick with it, though, and for the next two decades, he led a nomadic existence. He worked as a rock-band promoter. He taught outdoor education to teenagers in Georgia. He was a stagehand at the Kennedy Center and other area theaters. Whenever he found himself with a surplus of cash, he quit and hit the road. He often traveled to his favorite city, London, where he'd hang out until he ran out of money.
Along the way, Frank fell in love with food. He says he earned a reputation among his friends, for whipping up impromptu feasts that included favorite recipes: Halloween beans, Texas toast, Cajun artichokes. Someday I'll make a living at this, Frank told himself.
Frank knows that opening the Red Bean is risky and that most new restaurants fail. Not long ago, he says, some people were trying to open a kebab place down the street from the Red Bean. It folded before it opened.
But he's convinced that his restaurant will be a huge success. Mount Pleasant is an up-and-coming neighborhood, he says. Tonic, the restaurant and bar next door to the Red Bean, is packed almost every night. "We'll get all the overflow," Frank predicts.
He parks outside a small townhouse in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. He used to own a condominium in Mount Pleasant, but he sold it for restaurant start-up capital. Now he's living with his mother, Joan Connell, until the restaurant opens and starts generating income.
"Hi, Frankie," she says when he walks in the door. Joan is a small woman with short white hair, glasses and pink lipstick. She recently retired from the federal government and now is working part time at a retirement home.
She's happy to have Frank living with her again and shows off a scrapbook filled with Frank-related memorabilia. There's a short biographical sketch she wrote about him in 1985: "His hobbies are reading, making tapes, traveling, partying, cooking, roller skating."
While his mother reminisces about the menagerie of pets, including a glandless skunk, that Frank once kept in the basement, he spoons coffee into a filter. He appears to brood. "The bank won't give me any money," Frank finally says to his mom.
A few minutes of silence pass. Then Joan leaves the room. "I'll give you twenty bucks," she offers from the living room.
No thanks, he calls to his mother.
-- Tyler Currie
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
(Photograph by D.A. Peterson)