The last day of September was also the last day of business for the latest and longest version of Abuelita’s, Topanga’s familiar and comfortable Mexican Restaurant.
Built on the old Homegrown Boxcar site, its history is one of many incarnations dating from 1996. Beginning as Steve and Leslie Carlson’s Willows restaurant, it then became Chaparral, then again Willows, then Abuelita’s owned by the Silbars and Spencers, and then Abuelita’s, operated solely by Adam and Debra Silbar and, finally, for the last ten years, Abuelita’s, reincarnated yet again by Debra Yeremain and family.
Yeremain, ever modest and shy of the spotlight, shares simply, “Leaving is bittersweet. I’m not sure what’s next but I will miss everyone who’s been part of this. It’s like family, sometimes dysfunctional, but still family.”
Over the years, the accommodating place has hosted family gatherings, fundraisers, community events, political functions, howling Halloween Celebrations, rocking local music and creative art, as well as providing comfort to the weary traveler and familiar local, occasional celebrity, harried parent and even young romantics, as it housed the only bar in town.
I fondly recall at least several children’s birthday parties celebrated there and made just a bit more festive by the addition of a margarita…for the parents, of course. Olé!
Debra and husband Jeremy’s own children became part of our community and their son, Sy, who even came to work there, reflected, “I’ve had the privilege of being part of Topanga for nearly half my life and I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’m grateful for so many good times and will remember them always and forever.”
On that final Saturday night, long-time bartender Charles Tate walked in like royalty. Loved and appreciated by many as both a good-natured mixologist and entertainer, he smiled broadly, looking around at all the familiar faces for the last time, “This is so big!” he sighed. “There just aren’t words.”
A few moments later, another Abuelita’s staple showed up, and should have been awarded the prize for traveling the greatest distance. Coming all the way from New Jersey, Billy Portman, who had been a longtime member of the Topanga Community before moving with his family across the country, was the emcee for many community events, but also for Abuelita’s musical and karaoke events, famously partnering with Tate for their version of “Rappers Delight.”
“How could I ever miss this?” Portman said, while kissing all the girls.
Local legend, Michael Anapol, who just might know the place best, having worked there during its every incarnation, looked around the room with a wise and knowing eye, as if seeing the past, present and future but, then, tequila can do that to you.
A group of local musicians, including the ever enthused and talented Tom Mitchell, jammed in the back room, as bright spirit Lola Babalon, smiling among the dancers, was a perfect picture of Topanga Delight.
Former and beloved Topanga Elementary teacher, Marianne Bordier, surveyed the walls, wistfully recalling, “For so many years my fourth-grade class decorated these walls with our colorful Day of the Dead art.”
Young and old have been a part of this place and parts of our lives and friendships have been shared there. Children have grown up, love has blossomed, hair has gone gray, but Abuelita’s future should be creatively assured in the hands of capable, charismatic and forward-thinking, William Edwards, owner of The Topanga Table, formerly Pat’s Topanga Grill but now a locally sourced farm-to-table, popular breakfast and lunch spot.
“I am excited and looking forward to making some improvements,” he said. “I want to still offer Mexican cuisine and keep it community focused.”
I, for one, will always be grateful for the many meals, musings, margaritas, and especially for a splendid chili relleno that comforted me early one Sunday morning. Hard as it is to say goodbye to the past, we welcome the future.
Thank-you Yeremain’s and team—Sean, Star, both Jessicas, Kevin, Garrin, Jason, Arie, Paula, Sirry and anyone we’ve missed—for your heartfelt contribution to our community and as a place to go, eat and grow.