Our story so far: Frank Connell finally opened the door to his new restaurant after investing every penny he had in the Red Bean. He and his cousin/business partner, Mike Clements, made $350 their debut night. A decent start, the men agreed. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
Frank Connell's blue eyes are red and welling with tears. He squeezes his eyelids tight and pulls down a pair of dark sunglasses. Frank could blame these tears on the white onions that he's been chopping for jambalaya -- but there's also a drop of genuine despair. He says that he's having a "total mental breakdown." Frank is prone to dramatic overstatements, but at the moment he does have a cause for alarm. "We don't have enough money for anything."
Tomorrow is the first of the month, a day that Frank and his fellow rookie restaurateur, cousin Mike Clements, have been dreading for weeks. Their $3,500 rent payment is due, and they aren't going to make it. Mike has given their landlord, JGJ Properties, $1,000. Joe Wood, a partner in the real estate company and a longtime friend, says he understands their situation.
"If they don't have it by the fifth, that's what late fees are for," Wood says. "If they don't have it after 30 days, then we'd have a problem. We'd have to talk to them and figure something out.
"They're a young business," he adds. "Plus, they're friends of ours. We're willing to help out."
Payroll is also due this week. The Red Bean owes its two employees about $1,800. Mike says that, unfortunately, the staff is going to receive partial checks. They haven't gotten the bad news yet, but Mike already has a speech prepared: "We're really sorry but, look, we'll pay you half this week and half next week."
On the table beside Frank sits a pile of paperwork relating to the Red Bean's application for a liquor license. The Red Bean doesn't have a prayer of surviving, Frank says, unless the restaurant starts selling alcohol soon. As part of the application, Frank and Mike need to provide a police clearance from every place each of them has lived in the last five years. For Frank, this means contacting authorities in no fewer than six towns. Frank worries that might take a lot of time and cause a harmful delay. Mike has been less transient, however, so Frank wonders if it would be simpler just to put only Mike's name on the application.
Later that evening, the Red Bean is swamped. Every table is taken, and two groups are waiting for seats. Mike cooks on the line, while Frank bends over a cutting board, chopping tilapia fillets for the fish tacos. The cousins function in near wordlessness. For the next two hours, Frank does a bit of everything: taking orders, clearing tables, playing maitre d' and washing glasses.
At 11 p.m., Frank says good night to the last customers. Mike is tapping at the cash register, which begins printing a report on the evening's sales. Saying nothing, Mike hands Frank the long tape of white paper. Frank scrolls for the bottom line: $628.95. Still not enough revenue, but getting closer to what they need to bring in each day.
"Our biggest night ever," Frank shouts with joy.
-- Tyler Currie