The news that Internet sensation Nusret Gökçe — also known as Salt Bae — was planning to open a restaurant in Boston started circulating last year, but no one could have expected that it would make its splashy debut in a pandemic.
Still, that’s what happened on September 18, when Nusr-Et Boston opened in the former Nahita space in the Back Bay. What followed was a tumultuous, two-week ride: a chaotic, crowded opening night; a flurry of complaints and violations that included a dismissal of COVID-19 guidelines; a shutdown from the City of Boston; a Licensing Board hearing; and, as of Thursday, a reopening.
Still confused about what exactly went on? Here’s a rundown of who is behind Nusr-Et, why the restaurant faced so much scrutiny, and the new protocols it promises to adhere to going forward.
Who, exactly, is Salt Bae?
Nusret Gökçe is a Turkish butcher, restauranteur, and celebrity who found Internet fame in 2017 after posting a now-viral Instagram video. The video, which has racked up almost 17 million views to date, depicts Gökçe deconstructing a slab of steak, followed by him sprinkling salt over the meat in a dramatic fashion that earned him the nickname ‘Salt Bae.’ Scroll through Gökçe’s Instagram page and you’ll often find him clad in a form-fitting white T-shirt, posting slow-motion videos of himself cutting steak, sprinkling salt, and working out.
What is Nusr-Et?
Gökçe opened the first Nusr-Et Steakhouse in Turkey in 2010; since then, the brand has spread to the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Qatar, and the United States, with locations in Miami, New York City, and Boston. In addition to Nusr-Et Steakhouse, Gökçe launched Nusr-Et Burger in Turkey. In some of the steakhouse locations, cuts of steak are wrapped in 24 karat gold leaf — though there has been some controversy around the gold-wrapped meat. In January, the staff at Nusr-Et Miami called the police when a group of diners refused to pay their $5,012.28 bill, alleging that they did not know they were ordering the more expensive gold leaf version when they asked for a couple of $275 tomahawk steaks.
When did Nusr-Et Boston open?
The Boston outpost, located at 100 Arlington St., debuted in the Bay Village on September 18. Though the restaurant never officially announced an opening date, Gökçe teased it on his own social media, and fans swarmed the restaurant that weekend — which Gökçe also documented.
That does not look like a socially distanced crowd.
The Boston Licensing Board thought so, too. In addition to numerous complaints alleging that the restaurant was not following COVID-19 social distancing protocols, the Inspectional Services Department also found a series of violations, including operating a restaurant without a valid permit, incorrect refrigerator and dishwasher temperatures, and no proof of an on-site, certified food protection manager. The Board ordered Nusr-Et to shut down on September 26, and its liquor license was confiscated. A Board hearing was scheduled for September 29.
Gökçe and his team have not responded to Boston.com’s repeated requests for comment.
City Councilor Ed Flynn, who represents the Bay Village, told Boston.com that he had received several complaints from Bay Village residents who “witnessed long lines and crowding around Nusr-Et, as well as many employees and customers not wearing masks during its opening and subsequent days.”
“This restaurant is in close proximity to a senior housing development, and its lack of regard for public health measures can have serious consequences for seniors living in the area who are most susceptible to COVID-19,” Councilor Flynn shared in an e-mail. “I hope the Board will take the appropriate measure to ensure Nusr-Et’s future compliance with public health and safety standards that are necessary during this time, and ask the restaurant to cooperate with the Bay Village Neighborhood Association and its neighbors.”
What happened during the Licensing Board hearing?
On Tuesday, the Licensing Board addressed three formal complaints against the restaurant, including failure to adhere to pandemic safety protocols, to prevent lines from forming, and to maintain unobstructed fire exits.
According to the Boston Globe, Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of the Board, said that the shutdown was “a necessary action due to the strain on city resources to responding to calls of lack of social distancing repeatedly since this restaurant was open.”
Representatives for Nusr-Et vowed that they would make sure the restaurant was in compliance with state COVID-19 regulations, and that the opening of the restaurant was chaotic, in part, due to Gökçe’s status as an Instagram sensation.
“We take COVID measures, rules, and regulations very seriously, and safety comes first,” said Naki Ufuk Soyturk, one of Nusr-Et’s representatives, according to the Globe. “We’re not making any excuses. We should have done a better job to be in compliance with the safety and security rules. …We will be a fine-dining model establishment and an excellent neighbor.”
Dennis Quilty, an attorney representing Nusr-Et, said that “Though it’s no excuse, the chef is a well-known Internet personality, and we were just overloaded with people attracted to that event, if you will.”
While one of the restaurant managers, Ali Avci, told the Board that he and three other staff members had tried to break up the crowd, and that many of the guests left the area, Joyce advised the restaurant to hire more security in order to have a better handle on the influx of diners. During the meeting, which Gökçe did not attend, the Board also requested that Nusr-Et representatives submit a copy of the restaurant’s updated security and safety plan before deciding how to proceed.
Has Nusr-Et reopened?
On Thursday, Licensing Board executive secretary Lesley Delaney Hawkins told Boston.com that “the Board found a violation on the part of the Licensee and voted to consider the suspension served during the immediate closure mandated by the Board and Inspectional Services Department on September 26, 2020. The Licensee has been informed it may resume operations immediately.”
A call to the restaurant confirmed that the restaurant reopened on Thursday.
Nusr-Et also submitted an amended security and operations plan, which stated that “Staff shall regularly patrol the immediate exterior of the restaurant, and shall act reasonably and diligently to disperse loiterers or patrons who attempt to congregate in front of or at the premises.”
The plan also confirms that it will comply with all COVID-19 guidelines, and that two training sessions were held to go over the city and state’s COVID-19 regulations: one on September 26 for managers, and another on September 28 for the entire staff. Additional protocols include covering the restaurant’s interior photo wall to discourage patrons from taking photos, and assigning a manager to escort Gökçe around the restaurant to ensure he’s in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines. Gökçe will no longer engage with guests or the public outside of the restaurant, “and will not post any photographs or videos of himself with patrons at the licensed premises on his personal Instagram account for the duration of the public health crisis in the City of Boston.”
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