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Topanga Favorite: Froggy’s Return

Topanga Favorite: Froggy’s Return 

Froggy’s as it is today, on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, sporting Taco Flags. It is now open under its new adopted name as Froggy’s Cantina. Photo and image work by San Ade

“I was very cheeky, I got into trouble a lot.” Adriana Lemus, owner of La Chingona Tacos, doesn’t mince words when describing her young adulthood. “I was sent to my grandmother’s house as a punishment, and there I was expected to learn domestic duties including traditional Mexican cooking,” she says. “But I enjoyed being there, and soon I was making up mischief just to visit.”

Those formative years in the kitchen honed Adriana’s culinary skills. Now, at the top of her game, she is in partnership with Lance Roberts, owner of Topanga’s beloved Froggy’s Cantina. The canyon is abuzz with anticipation over the re-opening of this much-loved location. Running errands around town, I overheard no less than five conversations about Froggy’s latest incarnation. We’ve all heard rumors; I sat down with Adriana and Lance to get the facts.

Prier Hall on Topanga Canyon Boulevard became, in 1925, the first school available to the children of canyon residents. Image courtesy of Topanga Digital History: A Community History Project of the County of Los Angeles Public Library

The story begins in 1925, when the Spanish-style stucco building at 1105 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. was christened Prier Hall and became the canyon’s new school house. The school soon outgrew the space. In 1947, the school district purchased land to the north, to erect two additional classroom wings and expand the playground. Enrollment continued to grow. A state grant enabled the school district to build a new, bigger school on Topanga School Road, now home to Topanga Elementary Charter School.

What became of the old school property? 

The American Legion took over and renovated the facilities. From the late 1960s through the 1970s, the 1925 building served as an American Legion Hall. In 1980, the building was leased to restaurateurs who opened “The Goldrush.” Musician Neil Young was reportedly one of the backers of the business, and the space doubled as a performance venue. 

The Goldrush became “Shemrun”, a restaurant that offered middle eastern cuisine, from 1983 – 1988. The Legionnaires, still in possession of the property, “spent the early 90s retrofitting the hall, while they held meetings and old-time steak fries there,” according to the “The Topanga Story,” edited by Michele Johnson and printed by the Topanga Historical Society. 

Lance Keating Roberts took over the lease in 1994, after his restaurant, the Topanga Fish Market—located near the lumber yard—was destroyed in an arson fire in 1993. When the Legion decided to look for a new owner, they looked no further than Lance; they knew he would take care to retain the original charm and architecture of the historic building. 

Lance ran “Froggy’s” from 1994 until 2017, when he took a leave of absence to care for his mother. The lease was transferred, with the intention of keeping Froggy operational, but that plan didn’t work out and health department permits lapsed at that time. Then Covid hit. 

The reopening of Froggy’s has been and remains fraught with complexities. It will come to no surprise to anyone who has tried to build in the Santa Monica Mountains or open a business that getting permits from the county can be a slow process. 

In the meantime, the kitchen is cooking. Adriana had been invited to use Froggy’s kitchen several times when her taco business needed a temporary place to land. 

Finally ready to re-open post pandemic, Lance saw an opportunity to give La Chingona a permanent home. The two entrepreneurs have partnered up; she’s running the kitchen, he will be running the bar.

Success hasn’t come easy for Adriana.

After moving to Topanga in the year 2000, she began working in childcare. She was soon the most requested babysitter in the canyon, a fact she says is easily explained by the fact that she cooked for the families employing her. Though she later found work at the General Store, Waterlily Cafe, and Mimosa Cafe, she never abandoned her job as a sitter. 

Life became more challenging in 2017 when Adriana found herself raising her own children alone, a single mom. By 2018 she had five concurrent jobs to make ends meet.

“I created my taco business out of struggle,” she recounts. In 2019 she took a leap of faith, setting up a taco bar outside of Jalan Jalan Imports at the south end of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. All food was prepared in her home kitchen. The stand made its way to the parking lots of the now defunct Abuelita’s restaurant and Pinetree Circle; however, one disgruntled customer’s complaint to the health department shut the whole operation down.

Permits were needed. The best option at the time was to acquire a food truck, but money was still tight. In true Topanga spirit, a Go-Fund me page was set up to help Adriana. She needed $10,000—in less than 24 hours, she had raised $15,000. Of this gesture, she says, “It was very, very beautiful how the whole community—my taco friends—came together to help me. I’m still crying about it.” 

Adriana Lemus with her husband Calvin Taylor and her children Balam 12 and Lluvia 9. Photo courtesy of Adriana Lemus

Since then, life has been on the upswing. Once a sole proprietor, Adriana married her life partner, Calvin Taylor, in 2023. He took on a bonus role as business partner, and now the pair say their objective is to give back to the community that supported them. “We are so grateful. I know this is where I am supposed to be with my life, and my business, and I couldn’t have done it without my Topanga family” gushes Adriana.

Calvin is an Inglewood native who has wholeheartedly embraced Topanga. It’s not a far stretch, as his other job is at Manzanita School, where he works with kids on sports programs, and does un-official counseling when needed. Being of service seems to come naturally, and though La Chingona is a for-profit venture, there is an element of altruism at play. Concern for the well-being of others is certainly on display when you see the love and attention to detail the food is cooked with. 

There are so many Latin food trucks on the streets of Los Angeles, so what sets La Chingona apart? Says Adriana, “I love eating street food, but I always feel bad afterward. I created a menu that lets people enjoy the flavors of my heritage without the bad effects. All our ingredients are organic, gluten-free, and dairy-free.” 

Her menu will feature all the items customers know and love, including burritos, tacos, salads, and quesadillas. It will also be enhanced with new seafood additions, a nod to the fish market of the past: fish and chips, ceviche, calamari, and perhaps seasonal offerings. 

Lance Roberts leased the building known as Froggy’s, in 1994 and later purchased it from the American Legion. Above, fresh from outdoor work at his property and sprinkled with oak chips, he posed at the entrance to his restaurant. Photo by Jill Cotu

As for Lance, he says his vision for the future of Froggy’s is to “continue to have a fun place for friends and family to meet…as long as they don’t bring their dogs, and children stay supervised by their parents. And no running. You can quote me on that.”  

If there was a nice version of the word cantankerous, it would be apropos. Lance tows a hard line, but he also marvels at the hummingbirds that flock to Froggy’s every day, and his eyes light up when telling me about the great horned owls that frequent the property. He is a steward of the land.

Admiring the view from Froggy’s outdoor deck, I notice a large and stately tree standing much like a sentry. This tree would have witnessed school children carrying books and knapsacks into the classroom, and perhaps it provided a shady spot for lunch. It would have seen the styles of clothing and of cars come in and out of fashion, and construction crews tear down and put up walls, cement, wood, bricks…it may have seen weddings, births, and other celebrations of life. Still it stands, on land that may have been many things over the past hundred years, but holds fast to one constant—it has always been and continues to be a special gathering place.

Says Adriana, “We are working hard to create a space that feels how it used to feel at Froggy’s.” 

Froggy’s is currently open to the public Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, 1-8:30 pm, with extended summer hours to 9 pm. Sunday brunch is offered 12-3, and the regular menu will be served 3-8:30 pm. The staff are once again ready to take your order.

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