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Michelin-starred Sebastopol restaurant K&L Bistro to close after 21 years

After more than two decades as a destination for French-inspired dishes in downtown Sebastopol, the iconic K&L Bistro will close later this year.

The eatery’s French staples, like onion soup, Steak au Poivre and Mussels Mariniere, helped earn a Michelin star for owners Karen and Lucas Martin in 2007.

Announcement of its closure comes after being purchased by the owners of The Livery on Main, a forthcoming food hall, coworking and event space adjacent to the restaurant.

The sale is a bittersweet relief to the Martins, who as small-business owners have struggled to keep the doors open during the pandemic. Despite the restaurant's ongoing success, the couple has been operating with minimal staff — sometimes only as a couple with Karen in the kitchen and Lucas behind the bar and welcoming guests. Their two teenage sons have also been helping with cooking, busing tables and dishwashing.

K&L Bistro opened long before Sonoma County was a serious culinary destination with “chef-lebrities,” farm-to-table hoopla and multi-million dollar kitchen renovations. In 2001, the county was still a mostly rural outpost with just a handful of restaurants — John Ash & Co., Sonoma's Girl and the Fig or Madrona Manor — that could rival San Francisco's burgeoning food scene.

K&L's casual bistro fair, lively bar and European feel made it an almost instant standout in Sebastopol.

“We're really looking forward to the next chapter in our lives, and it's exhilarating and terrifying,” Lucas Martin said. “We've been doing this a long time, and we had a 20-year plan to retire. We're on year 21,” he added. The Martins moved to Sebastopol from San Francisco to raise their two sons, who are now grown.

The bistro, at 119 S. Main St., will remain open for the next two to three months as the sale finalizes, according to Greg Beale, founder and CEO of the Beale Group and Farm to Coast Collective.

A “public benefit corporation,” Farm to Coast Collective will operate The Livery on Main and will provide on-site management, staffing and marketing to the food hall vendors in return for licensing fees (30% of gross revenue from food hall vendors).

The Livery is slated to open in late 2022. Both parties declined to disclose the terms of the K&L sale.

“Having the K&L space in such proximity to The Livery on Main is a huge asset,” said Beale, adding that the Livery team is looking at several concepts but has yet to land on how the restaurant will be utilized.

The Livery, at 135 S. Main St., is slated to open with several “microrestaurants,” including vegan dishes from Santa Rosa’s Cozy Plum Bistro, Mexican-style mariscos (seafood dishes) from Santa Rosa’s El Charro Negro food truck and Greek food from Taverna Lithi, a new restaurant from Dino’s food truck owner and chef Dino Moniodis. Village Bakery is also slated to open in the building after losing its retail shop and production kitchen in The Barlow during the flooding of 2019 and recently closing its Montgomery Village cafe.

“We're striving to create a warm and inviting place, just as the Martins have for more than 20 years,” Beale said.

Continuing the K&L name hasn’t been ruled out, he said.

“We feel good about passing the torch along to Greg and his team — Sebastopolians who love our little town as much as we do. We're sad to leave the community that so warmly welcomed and nurtured us, but we're happy to be free to explore some new opportunities outside the area,” Lucas Martin said.

The couple plan to move to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to family, and haven’t dismissed the idea of running a food business in the future.

“It's a sad ending to a great love story. We tried to hang on, but we can't economically. It's a little emotional,” Lucas Martin said.

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