Nusret Gökçe, a chef and butcher from Turkey, became famous in 2017 for bouncing flakes of salt off his forearm and onto other people’s food, which for some reason millions of Instagram followers found charming and earned him the handle Salt Bae. Gökçe has parlayed this fame into an international chain of over a dozen steak houses and burger restaurants, the most recent of which opened near Union Square a couple of weeks ago.
It’s worth noting that Salt Bae’s little empire comes with a lengthy list of accusations and lawsuits against Gökçe for everything from labor law violations to wage theft to sex discrimination.
Salt Bae Faces Allegations of Copyright Infringement in Latest Legal Battle
A Brooklyn artist alleges the viral chef illegally used his artwork as part of a $5 million lawsuit.
Nusret Gökçe, the Turkish butcher otherwise known as Salt Bae, is embroiled in legal drama once again, this time due to alleged copyright infringement of artwork depicting the chef in his signature salt-sprinkling pose.
In a lawsuit filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 12, Brooklyn-based artist William Hicks is suing Gökçe for $5 million in damages after the chef reportedly printed his art on menus, takeout bags, and signs at international Nusr-Et Steakhouse locations in Turkey, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates without permission. Gökçe never sought a license to use the artwork and has yet to compensate Hicks for use of the copyright, the lawsuit alleges. Eater has reached out to Gökçe for more information.
According to the lawsuit, Gökçe commissioned Hicks and another artist in September 2017 to create and install a mural of the chef in his internet famous salt-sprinkling pose for a location of his international restaurant chain Nusr-Et Steakhouse in Miami. Additional murals were reportedly commissioned and installed at Nusr-Et Steakhouse locations in New York, Dubai, and Istanbul. Andrew Gerber, an attorney representing Hicks, declined to disclose how much Hicks was paid for the artwork initially.
Following the installations at those restaurant locations, the lawsuit alleges Gökçe continued to print the artwork at his restaurants without compensating Hicks or obtaining a license to use the art. Hicks declined through a lawyer to speak further about the lawsuit.
This isn’t the first time the Turkish restaurateur has been embroiled in legal drama. In 2019, workers at Nusr-et Steakhouse locations in Manhattan and Miami joined a collective-action lawsuit against Gökçe, alleging the viral chef underpaid employees, pooled tips, and declined to pay some staff overtime. Then, earlier this year, a Texas-based construction company sued the restaurant chain, alleging it owed more than $933,000 in unpaid bills following the construction of a Nusr-Et Steakhouse location in Downtown Dallas.
Despite Gökçe opening one of the worst restaurants in NYC, the Turkish restaurateur continues to expand the Nusr-Et brand, with new locations in Boston and Dallas, as well as a restaurant planned for London.
Should you still want to enrich Salt Bae and his restaurant , here’s what to expect. When you enter, you enter a Salt Bae theme park—unsurprisingly, there are images everywhere of Gökçe doing his Salt Bae thing (drawings, photographs, light sculptures), and if he’s around, he’ll be more than happy to pose for however many pictures you want to take.
The restaurant is large, with seating for about 60 at stools, various tables, and banquettes, and the location is on a prime Union Square/Gramercy corner, at Park Avenue South and 18th Street. There’s a bar with an undulating wooden base dividing the room, and each table has a numbered coat-check glued to its surface, but these are the only bits of decor that are not Gökçe-centric.
The food is terrible here. I had the unfortunate opportunity a few weeks ago to eat several sad servings of hospital food, and everything I had at Salt Bae was worse, and delivered with much less love. The menu, framed within a weirdly weighty metal tombstone apparently marking the death of everything pleasurable about eating, is wall-to-wall bad sandwiches.
Let’s start with ridiculous, possibly illegal “FREE FOR LADIES” Veggie Burger. Unlike other non-ladies I’ve read about, I had to pay $14.50 for mine, but honestly? Free is no bargain for this horror show, which tasted of old broccoli and was garnished with a pathetic slice of wilted iceberg lettuce that was browning at the edges. You’ve only been open a few days, and the place has been packed, how is your lettuce so old? Even the stale “homemade pink bun” on this was really more pale orange, as if Gökçe couldn’t even be bothered to do sexism well.
Worse, though, was the Wet Burger, which is apparently a popular snack in Turkey and I had seen described elsewhere as being like a “sloppy joe,” but this version is actually just a meager disc of meat sitting within a soggy, unpleasantly sweet bun. It’s also tiny, but you can’t eat more than a single bite anyway. And then there’s the signature Salt Bae Burger, featuring a mound of flavorless “Waygu meat” with oozy toppings designed for Instagram. In fact, it arrives at your table sliced in half, camera-ready.
And if you really want to wallow in regret, you can get a $100 version of the same, covered in gold leaf.
I tried one of Salt Bae’s shakes, as well, called the Puf Puf, which involved zero ice cream and way too much marshmallow. Given all of that, the fries are shockingly good, so if you do get dragged here just order those.
Salt Bae Burger is an insult to our city. Don’t eat here, not even as a goof.
Salt Bae Burger is located at 220 Park Avenue South, at the corner of 18th Street, and is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to midnight (212-308-2110)
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