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Whatever Happened To ... Red Bean owner Frank Connell?

By Tyler Currie
Sunday, February 28, 2010; W04

Frank Connell calls me on occasion, often with an incredible announcement. A few years ago, he phoned to say that he was running for mayor of New Orleans. Later, that he was devoting himself full time to the abolition of the federal income tax. I reminded him that he didn't have much income. He cursed me out, and we laughed.

Often, it's hard to take Frank seriously. But his most recent declaration caught my attention. "I've decided to open a restaurant," he said.

It reminded me of the night I met him in a Washington bar, in 2004, when he said that at 43, he'd sold his condo, moved into his mother's basement and committed his life savings to opening a Cajun-themed eatery called the Red Bean. It was surprising; Frank had worked as a real estate agent, as a union stagehand in the District and as a camp counselor in Georgia. He'd never really settled down, always afflicted with wanderlust and an eye toward the next big thing.

The restaurant proved to be no hollow boast. He soon showed me the space, already leased, on Mount Pleasant Street in Northwest. Frank was unconcerned about having never worked in -- much less managed -- a restaurant.

He agreed to be the subject of a series of weekly articles in the Magazine. I spent the next 22 weeks shadowing him, chronicling the Red Bean's birth, its rise as a center of Mount Pleasant merriment and its inexorable implosion. Even on those rare nights when customers packed the Red Bean, Frank would whisper how much he wished to be elsewhere, free from responsibility. When the Red Bean shut down in early 2005, Frank was devastated financially and emotionally. But he also seemed relieved.

He then fled to New Orleans, his former home. His hips started to hurt and walking became increasingly painful. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Frank's in a wheelchair now, living in New Orleans. He doesn't reveal much about his livelihood -- food stamps, Medicaid, disability payments -- or how illness has circumscribed his life. He says he's getting good medical care and leaves it at that. He prefers to talk about Leroy, his new love, an adopted golden-haired 2-year-old mutt.

There will be no new restaurant. He is now interested in relationship counseling or starting some kind of Web site for musicians. It's all so imprecise, mercurial and classically Frank.

THE ORIGINAL SERIES: Part 1 ... Part 2 ... Part 16 ... Part 17 ... Part 21 ... After the Adventure

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