Our story so far: Frank Connell has joined forces with his 27-year-old cousin, Mike Clements, to open a Northwest Washington restaurant called the Red Bean. The two men are close friends, though they don't always get along. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
Frank Connell crawls across the Red Bean's hardwood floor, using one hand to drag a yellow vacuum cleaner with no wheels. In the other hand, he holds a short plastic hose. If it were a bit longer, he wouldn't need to vacuum on all fours, ferreting around under the tables for shreds of fallen tortilla and shriveled cheese. "I should get some knee pads," he grumbles.
When the Red Bean opened two weeks ago, Frank quickly learned that brooms don't work well on the floor. "You could spend your whole [expletive] life sweeping and never get it clean. So I just get on my hands and knees and vacuum."
In the past, Frank, 43, has been driven by wanderlust. He would often quit a job just to travel. Now he's worked in his restaurant for 15 straight days, and that old traveling bone is starting to itch. He says he'd love to hop on a bus, a plane, whatever.
He turns the vacuum off. It's time for a coffee break. Frank pours his brew into a pint glass and adds ice, sugar and cream. He then looks for a spoon in a bin of flatware. Fork. Knife. Fork. Knife. "I'm about to have a temper tantrum . . . All I want is a spoon." His voice approaches a holler, directed at no one in particular. Only after slamming a plastic container onto the countertop does he find a spoon.
He has lost his temper several times recently, he says as he sips his coffee. Once he yelled at a teenage busboy who kept addressing him in a glib tone. "He thinks I'm 16, and I'm not," Frank says. Later Frank apologized.
Another time he was in a hurry to tenderize a few pounds of calamari, but he couldn't find the mallet. One of his employees, he says, had lost it. He thundered out of the restaurant and went across the street to buy a new mallet. It only cost five bucks. But for this nascent, deeply indebted business, every dollar counts. Right now Frank is living on a pauper's salary of $20 a day, enough to cover bus fare, cigarettes and a few beers after work.
Frank takes another sip of coffee. He says he's tried to be patient with his handful of employees. He and his cousin Mike Clements also have had some tense encounters. Mike describes Frank as "the chaos in my life," citing an example of how infuriating Frank can be as a business partner: "He went over my head and hired someone without my permission."
Frank sometimes finds Mike annoying, too. "He's just snappy all the time," Frank complains.
While the dinner crowd at the Red Bean has been decent, most people aren't spending as much money as the cousins expected. Checks are averaging $10 per customer. Frank and Mike are confident that revenue will pick up once the restaurant has a permit to sell beer and wine. But the rent -- $3,500 -- is due in less than two weeks. Frank isn't sure they'll be able to pay it on time.
What will they do if they can't? "Beg and borrow," Frank says, shrugging. Then he crouches on the floor again and turns the vacuum cleaner back on, sucking pieces of white lint from the black doormat.
-- Tyler Currie