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French Restaurant That Changed the Arts District Forever Said to Be Closing This Month [Update]

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Church & State says it is ending its decade-long run this weekend

Church & State, Arts District
Church & State, Arts District
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Church & State, the first big dinner restaurant to hit Downtown LA’s Arts District a decade ago, seems to be closing, with ownership saying that the final night of service comes this weekend.

Back when it opened, few diners outside of Arts District thought of the area as a dining destination. That changed when opening chef Walter Manzke installed French bistro menu that became wildly popular. Manzke went on to open Republique to great success along La Brea Avenue using much of the same formula of charcuterie, bistro classics, and more. LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila awarded the restaurant three stars (out of four), while Jonathan Gold later reviewed it under Tony Esnault’s tenure, giving it high praise as well.

Owners Yassmin Sarmadi and Tony Esnault made a confusing announcement just a few minutes ago, sending out a notice to their newsletter subscribers. The image, reposted below, recalls the couple’s “ten fabulous years” in Downtown.

Church & State’s news comes during an otherwise boom period for the Arts District, with big-named chefs like Mei Lin and Chris Bianco recently installing restaurants nearby. Others, like Stephanie Izard of Chicago’s Girl & the Goat, are still coming soon, and properties from Soho House to the recently-opened Firehouse boutique hotel and restaurant are rising up to meet the demand from locals and recently-opened offices.

That’s not to say the shakeup was altogether unforeseen, as Sarmadi and Esnault had just last year also closed their spendy Historic Core restaurant Spring after a two-year run. The duo faced mounting challenges, including Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Church & State, after staring down a labor-related lawsuit back in 2017.

The final night of service is Saturday, April 27, according to the couple’s email. As for Sarmadi and Esnault, they’re heading south, saying in their closing email:

We’re moving on to a new, exciting project named Knife Pleat, in Orange County’s famed South Coast Plaza. The cuisine of Knife Pleat will reflect Tony’s modern interpretation of classic French techniques, drawing from his 25 years of fine dining experience in Europe, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Update: LA Times reports that Sarmadi says she is not closing the restaurant, only handing it off to new, unnamed ownership. It’s unclear who that team is, or what their actual plans are for the place in both the immediate and the future. The headline for the company’s email announcement reads: “Thank You for 10 Years: Church & State Bistro Moves On,” and does not mention a continuation of business to any other owner, though they have since said otherwise to the Times.

Church & State. 1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles, CA.