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The Adventures of Frank

A continuing story

Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page W08

Our story so far: Despite Frank Connell's repeated predictions that the Red Bean will obtain a liquor license, the Northwest D.C. restaurant continues to limp along without one. 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 adventures@washpost.com.

Episode 21

Frank Connell stirs a vat of burbling red beans, adding a few shots of lemon juice, as he prepares for a busy Friday night.

"This is the one recipe I'm kind of protective of," he says. A few weeks ago, the restaurant's cook got creative by adding bay leaves to the signature dish. Frank says he flipped out, trashing the whole batch. "You don't [mess] with my recipes," he declared.

Soon Mike Clements, Frank's cousin and business partner, arrives at the Red Bean. Frank hands him a stack of mail that was sitting unopened on the counter.

"High-anxiety mail," Frank says to Mike. Frank refuses to open the mail; he doesn't want to look at the bills that keep pouring in. Mike doesn't spend much time looking at the mail, either. Instead he prepares a list of groceries, which he hands to Frank along with a pair of crisp $20 bills.

"I'll be right back," Frank says as he pulls his favorite black-brimmed hat over his scruffy head. Frank is about to walk across Mount Pleasant Street on his way to the grocery store when he sees something that enrages him: A woman in a beige Toyota sedan is parked, blinkers flashing, in the middle of the street, while a growing line of traffic is backed up. Frank runs around to the driver's side window.

"You're blocking traffic," Frank shouts at the woman, waving his arms and pointing to the cars idling behind her. The woman averts her eyes, pretending not to hear Frank's cries. Down the block, Frank spots a police officer. "Hey . . . she's blocking traffic," Frank says to the officer, who quickly gets the woman to drive off.

Frank says that since he's become a business owner, he's felt increasingly responsible for his neighborhood. "I am the sheriff of Mount Pleasant," he says. "I've always been like this, but now more so."

In the Red Bean, he plays much the same role: schmoozing with customers and making sure everyone has a good time. When a party of 12 arrives that night, Frank leans over the table to set down a small dish of crab dip. "It's an old family recipe that I came up with tonight," he says. He waits for the chorus of giggles to subside before wandering off to amuse another table of customers. Every seat in the house is filled.

One diner, a tall man who looks like the late singer John Denver, approaches Frank after dinner. He places a hand on Frank's bicep and thanks him for hanging in there. "I know [business] hasn't been easy."

"No, it hasn't," Frank replies.

At the end of the night, Frank and Mike sit behind the counter smoking cigarettes and sipping beers. Frank reviews the receipts. The party of 12 spent nearly $200, making it the Red Bean's single biggest check ever. With $755 in sales, the restaurant had an above-average night, but Mike talks about needing to break the $1,000 barrier. Frank, however, feels buoyed.

"Nights like this make me more optimistic," he says. "They give me hope."

-- Tyler Currie


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