Our story so far: The newly opened Red Bean is doing a decent dinner business, but Frank Connell isn't sure whether the restaurant will generate enough money to pay the coming month's rent. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
Frank Connell is turning blue. A moment ago his arms and legs were shivering; now they are quaking. He hugs himself for warmth and continues his search for a particular brand of smoked sausage at Restaurant Depot, a wholesale grocery in Alexandria for restaurateurs. "It's freezing in here," he says.
In addition to being frigid, Restaurant Depot is huge. The walk-in refrigerator has more square footage than some houses and contains enough meat to feed the Red Army. This explains why Frank is having such difficulty locating his smoked sausage. When his arms start to involuntarily flap like chicken wings, he grabs three random packs of kielbasa and rushes for the door. "These are close enough," he says.
This is his first visit to the wholesale grocery since the opening of his restaurant, the Red Bean. Previous shopping expeditions have been handled by his cousin and business partner, Mike Clements. But Mike is busy this afternoon, so the supply run has fallen to Frank. Mike gave him $200 and a shopping list: shrimp, calamari, smoked sausage, rice, crayfish meat, Roma tomatoes and cornstarch.
The Red Bean generated about $10,000 in sales during its debut month, but that isn't enough to cover expenses. Monthly rent runs $3,500. Payroll: more than $4,000. Insurance: $250. Utilities: $1,500. Loan repayment: $1,500. Stop there and the business is already in the red -- before a morsel of food has been purchased. Clearly every penny has to be watched.
When the restaurant first opened, Frank and Mike were receiving deliveries of food, but the service was too expensive. Mike figured that they would save 30 to 50 percent by driving 25 minutes to Restaurant Depot. The problem is that Frank doesn't own a car and Mike's car doesn't have any tags. So they borrow a car from their landlord or one of the waitresses, or persuade a friend to drive to Alexandria.
Frank passes a display of one-gallon olive oil cans at $7.99 each. "That's a pretty good deal," he says. It's not on the list, but he puts a can into the cart anyway. No such thing as too much olive oil, he says. Moments later he spots a bottle of French vanilla syrup. That's not on the list either. So what? It, too, goes in the cart.
Soon another rogue product threatens Frank's focus: a package of frozen clams. "I could just go crazy in here," he says. Yet he resists the clams. He also wards off a large wooden spatula, a jar of paprika, a steel rack and a three-speed mixer. But he can't resist a five-gallon beverage dispenser -- "perfect for iced coffee."
In the checkout line, Frank jokes with the cashier: "Get me out of here. I'm going to buy the whole place." He forks over $146.54 for his purchases, including $30 worth of items that weren't on the list. But Frank's not worried about overspending. He says he's looking forward to his next visit to Restaurant Depot, when he plans to bring a coat.
-- Tyler Currie