I was sitting inside the new Bob's Espresso Bar at 5251 Lankershim Blvd. in the NoHo Arts District, waiting patiently to talk to the new owner while sipping on a fine cup of Italian roast.
Bob was currently talking with some 18-year-old kid who'd come in on a skateboard looking for a job. Although he had no work experience whatsoever, let alone barista experience, Bob kindly chatted with the kid for five minutes, asking him where he was from and what he liked to do for fun.
Bob took his time talking with the kid and came across as a pretty nice, chill, laid back guy. He also seemed... familiar. Very familiar. It was the voice. There was no mistaking the voice. It was the voice of a man with a "special five-point plan."
By the time Bob came and sat down at my table to talk with me, I was 99 percent sure I knew who he was. A few minutes into our conversation I asked him if he was an actor and he said yes. Sitting across from me was Robert Romanus, aka "Mike Damone," the smooth-talking, ticket-scalping guy with attitude from the classic 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was filmed almost entirely in the San Fernando Valley.
Fast Times was only Bob's second film and probably remains the role he is best known for, but he's been a working actor ever since with many guest or supporting appearances on hit TV shows and films. His long list of credits includes Fame, 21 Jump Street, The Facts of Life, St. Elsewhere, CHIPS, Will and Grace, Cold Case, the new Kiefer Sutherland show Touch and the 2010 film The Runaways.
I asked Bob how often he gets recognized for his acting work.
"Pretty much all the time. I think it's my voice that gives it away more than anything," Bob said.
While his acting work has always been steady, Bob said it has been "not busy enough to always be busy," which is what led him to open Bob's Espresso Bar, his very first business. He's always had other interests and has taught kids in the Los Angeles area about film and acting, including teaching for seven years at The Country School in Valley Village. He also has a band, Poppa’s Kitchen, that has released seven CDs.
"(Bob's Espresso Bar) to me was something that is an extension of everything that I like. The artwork, the colors, the drinks. It’s a very small menu, basically espresso drinks. I want it to be a place you come in, have a good coffee and maybe a little pastry, listen to some good music or some spoken word. I’d like it to be an artists' haven," Bob said.
Bob said he has been coming to North Hollywood off and on for 30 years because he studied acting with Brian Sheehan, the owner of the Eclectic Wine Bar & Grille.
"Back then, it was not the kind of area where you wanted to come down and hang out in," Bob said. "In just the last few months I’ve seen it growing."
He said he has lived in the Valley for about 20 years and has been living in the NoHo Arts District for the last several years. He also said he has three children that attend Campbell Hall in Studio City.
"When I moved to the neighborhood I was looking for a coffee house that I could hang out in, more like a coffee bar. That’s what this is more like for me. There’s a counter, you can sit here and talk to people. It’s a little more social than a coffee house," Bob said. "And I was looking for a place to come and listen to music. I got nothing against alcohol, but I don’t like hanging out in bars to listen to music. I’ve always been a big fan of coffee houses, and I’ve always thought that fabulous music has come out of coffee houses. And so one of the things I’d like to do here is be kind of a launching pad for artists. It’s a great neighborhood for it."
I asked Bob if he planned on having a big grand opening party or a ribbon cutting ceremony. He shook his head, nah. He was happy to have just quietly opened the doors on Monday and let folks walk by and discover the place.
After spending some time talking with Bob and seeing him interact with customers, I could see why he was moved to open a coffee bar. He comes off as a very relaxed guy that enjoys talking to people. He's also humble about his acting work and is not very interested in talking about himself, but he also doesn’t shy away from it or act annoyed when asked.
As I got up to leave, the kid who was looking for a job was still sitting a few tables away and had clearly overheard part of our conversation.
"Did I hear you say you worked in movies and TV?" the kid asked.
Bob said that yes, that was correct. The kid then asked what he would have seen him in.
"Well, I was in a film called Fast Times at Ridgemont High, did you ever see that?"
"Yeah, I did," the kid said as he studied Bob's face. Slowly, it dawned on the kid who he was talking to. The voice, the face, it all came together.
"Oh, wow, no way!" the kid said. He then asked Bob a question he probably has been asked a thousand times — "What was it like working with Sean Penn?"
Bob's tone was not annoyed at all, and he gave the kid a passionate answer.
"You know, Sean was probably the most committed actor I've ever worked with. He was amazing," Bob said.
I walked out the door, certain their conversation was going to go on for the next 15 minutes as Bob indulged the kid with any stories or info he desired.
For more information on Bob, check out his website, or stop in at Bob's Espresso Bar and chat him up. He will be happy to meet you.