Wanderlust: How Patty Romanoff spent her Starbucks sabbatical

  • During her year-long sabbatical from Starbucks, Patty Romanoff crisscrossed the globe, while continuing to manage The Nields, Dar Williams and Susan Werner. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • During her year-long sabbatical from Starbucks, Patty Romanoff crisscrossed the globe, while continuing to manage The Nields, Dar Williams and Susan Werner. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • From the Sahara to an ’80s night on a cruise with Melissa Etheridge and Dar Williams — not to mention Japan, France, Cuba and New York’s Central Park, Romanoff shared her travels on her Instagram account @bproofmgmt.

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • One for my scrapbook. 80s night... Dar Williams andMelissa Etheridge — with Dar Williams at Grand Cayman. Courtesy Patty Romanoff

  • Courtesy Patty Romanoff

For Hampshire Life
Published: 6/20/2019 2:49:27 PM
Modified: 6/20/2019 2:49:14 PM

Patty Romanoff lives by the motto, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.”

That’s why when her job at the Starbucks in downtown Northampton offered her the opportunity to take a year-long unpaid sabbatical — a benefit offered to employees who’ve been with the company for 10 years — she decided to take it and spend the year traveling the world. A New Jersey native and Easthampton resident, Romanoff crisscrossed Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean during the last year, documenting everything on her Instagram account @bproofmgmt.

“When I say I’m going to do something, I tend to actually do it,” Romanoff said. “I’m not one of these people that says I’m going to do something and then goes, ‘Oh it’s too far, it’s too long, it’s too much money.’ I’ll just do it.”

Starting in April 2018, Romanoff followed the flowers from the cherry blossoms in Japan to the lavender in Aix-en-Provence, travels which some of her customers in the Valley also followed on social media. She went to Disney World, then she went again, “because, you know, I can.” A self-described basketball freak, she went to the Women’s World Cup basketball tournament in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, also visiting nearby Morocco while she was in the area. She saw Ireland, Israel, and went on a couple of cruises, too.

Romanoff has always tried to travel as much as she can, starting when she went on a cross-country tour for teens when she was just 16. “To me, traveling is imperative to understanding others,” Romanoff said. “How would I know what the color red is if the only color I ever saw was blue? My wardrobe would be pretty boring.”

Balancing Starbucks and music

It’s not all play and no work, of course. Working at Starbucks fits into Romanoff’s motto, too. “If you’re social, and most of your day you spend in your house staring at a computer, it’s a really really fun outlet to just chat,” Romanoff said. “Yeah, it’s work, but mostly I get to talk to people all morning long.”

Romanoff likes to talk, and she’s good at it. Her speech is assured and authoritative, but she knows when to laugh at herself, too. That confidence is part of how she scored her other job as a manager for a few nationally and internationally touring bands. She quickly rose from a cold-calling intern for an indie label in New York City to the booking agent for the Northampton-based band The Nields.

 

That history dates back to the early ‘90s, when Romanoff was a graduate from Rutgers University and bored with her job as a human resource director for a company in New York that she had been with for seven years. Back then, she was a fan of a number of little-known folk music bands who she thought deserved more recognition. “I thought, I can go do that,” Romanoff said. “I can go work for a record label, eventually maybe I could be a tour manager. That’d be great because clearly somebody has a job doing that.”

Romanoff gave herself six months to break into the industry. She worked some odd jobs before finding a help wanted ad in the New York Times for unpaid interns at an acoustic music label called Prime CD. To make sure that they were a legitimate label, she called their number close to midnight to listen to their answering machine to see how many artists they represented. She was surprised to find that she recognized many of their bands, including the folk-rock band 5 Chinese Brothers.

The next day, Romanoff called the label up and got the internship, becoming the label’s publicist.

“It turns out that I’m real good at talking on the phone,” Romanoff said. “I had a lot of experience just cold calling people. I wasn’t shy about it, it didn’t make me uncomfortable. All of a sudden I had Billboard and Rolling Stone articles running, which is a big deal in the music business.”

When a booking agent position opened up at the label, they offered it to Romanoff. She booked the band The Nields in a coffeehouse series because she liked them, and band member Nerissa Nields called her soon after to let her know that they had fired their agent and Romanoff could contact her directly from that point instead.

Romanoff took the chance. “I was pretty cocky, so I said, ‘Oh, I’m an agent,’ ” Romanoff recalled. Nields suggested that they set up a meeting.

The next week, Romanoff was their booking agent. Then, once she had one band, more started calling.

Before she realized it, “I had started my own company. Honestly, I inadvertently started my own company. It wasn’t my game plan.”

Knowing that she couldn’t afford both an apartment and an office in New York, Romanoff decided to move into the house that Katryna Nields was renting in Hatfield. “I had no idea what Northampton was. That’s pretty much how I run my life,” Romanoff said. “I didn’t even know how to put gas in a car.”

Romanoff worked for a while as their agent, then eventually as their tour manager. Her travel expertise came in handy booking spaces for the band to stay in on tour. “After a few weeks of seeing how we lived — always getting the cheapest Motel 6s — she went online and searched for bargains. Suddenly, we were staying in much nicer digs, for the same price,” Nerissa said. “She is the secret to our success, an integral part of our team. I can’t imagine our career without her.”

Then Katryna had a baby in 2001, which put the breaks on touring. That’s when Starbucks came in. Starbucks offers health insurance benefits to employees who average at least 20 hours per week and who have been with the company for at least six months — benefits which Romanoff needed. She also coached basketball at Williston High School and Easthampton High School for a few years, from 2004 to 2007.

“It really was, in my mind, a temporary situation until I could decide whether I wanted to keep doing management [or] find a whole new career, I just wasn’t quite sure,” Romanoff said.

But Romanoff found that she enjoyed working at Starbucks. Besides the social aspect, Romanoff also likes the people that she works with.

“My coworkers are a riot,” Romanoff said. “One of my coworkers is a Juilliard graduate, one of them almost has his Ph.D. in Chemistry — they’re all really smart, really educated, really fun. It’s fun to work with them.”

It helps, too, that she gets free coffee on the job. Romanoff enjoys a dark roast coffee with two raw sugars and cream or a triple pull americano with extra room. If she’s feeling daring, she might have an iced caramel macchiato, but she tries to avoid them because of all the sugar.

“The only thing I don’t like about it is I have to be on my feet,” Romanoff admitted of the job. “A four-hour shift only gives me 10 minutes off my feet, and I don’t think people realize how hard it is to stand on your feet for four hours.”

New horizons

Despite this, if you talk to Romanoff, you would think she has endless energy. Besides Starbucks and band managing, she volunteered for Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 and ended up being the driver for his mother. She’s also been a foster parent and has donated a kidney.

Romanoff retired from Starbucks last week, but she’s hardly slowing down. The company allows employees who have worked at least 10 years to retire at 55. She’ll keep her employee discount and will get a free pound of coffee beans a week for life, but she’ll be buying her own insurance now.

But it’s not a true retirement. Romanoff will continue managing The Nields, Dar Williams and Susan Werner. She’s a whiz at her job, with Williams calling her “one of the best managers out there.”

“She has triple superpowers,” Williams continued. “One is that she projects herself into the future and helps me make a plan, so there’s minimal rushing and panic. Two is that she is an excellent traveler. Three is that she learns how you think. I wanted to fit California and Texas into one long tour, and she said, ‘You don’t like touring for more than ten days in a row.’ I stopped and wondered if that were true. It’s true!”

Besides the music business, Romanoff is spending part of June in France, planning a trip to Las Vegas for the WNBA All-Star game in July and a cruise to Bermuda with her daughter and granddaughter in August.

“I don’t understand those people that go, ‘Oh, that’s so so cool, I wish I could,’ ” Romanoff said. “You could! If you want to do something, do it.”

 




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