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Is Salt Bae Actually Tip-Skimming Bae?

A new lawsuit claims that the viral chef engaged in some shady wage practices at his Manhattan restaurant

Photo by Jean Schwarzwalder for EaterNY

In addition to twinkle-dropping salt flakes all over people’s steaks, a new lawsuit alleges that viral superstar Salt Bae has been plucking tip money from employees at his Manhattan steakhouse, Nusr-Et.

A former waiter named Mustafa Fteja claims that Salt Bae — whose real name is Nusret Gökçe — pooled tips and “retained the gratuities” at his restaurant, including those offered above the standard 18 percent service charge that’s automatically added to each bill. The suit, which was obtained by the New York Post, alleges that the boss skimmed 3 percent off the top of the tips before distributing them to employees, including managers and other non-service staffers. The former worker also claims that the steakhouse shorted employees on pay for breaks and overtime, and he alleges that the management “systematically fired each waiter who complained about not getting paid tips,” including Fteja himself. The former employee is seeking class action status for violations of state and federal labor laws on behalf of all waitstaff at the restaurant.

“This suit reflects restaurants that too often take advantage of their employees by failing to pay them proper wages,” Fteja’s lawyer, Douglas Lipsky, told the Daily News. “It doesn’t matter how you sprinkle salt on a steak, you have to pay your workers properly.”

The Turkish chef/butcher opened his Manhattan steakhouse less than a year after he became an internet sensation for posting increasingly strange videos of various meat preparations to Instagram, all capped off with his signature salt sprinkle. Pretty much every big critic visited Salt Bae’s restaurant shortly after it opened, and the reviews were mixed. Eater’s Robert Sietsema was not blown away by the tableside routine, but wrote that his steak was “perfectly cooked though not benefiting much from the charcoal fire.“ New York Times critic Pete Wells was moved to write: “In its perfect circularity, its pure subordination of lived experience to mediated experience, Nusr-Et may be New York’s first true 21st-century restaurant.”

But Salt Bae’s popularity took a significant hit last September, after the chef hosted Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — the man responsible for Venezuela’s economic collapse and food shortages — at his Istanbul restaurant, and bragged about the visit on Instagram. The meeting between Salt Bae and Maduro inspired more than 100 protestors to swarm the Miami location of Nusr-Et, demanding an apology from the viral star. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio even joined the crowd of Bae haters on Twitter.

Gökçe’s team has not yet addressed the wage theft allegations, but the lawsuit and the Maduro debacle certainly don’t help his public image, especially at a time when he’s trying to open restaurants in a few new markets across America. Stay tuned for more updates on the Salt Bae wage lawsuit as they become available.
Salt Bae swiped our tips, then fired us for complaining: suit [NYP]
‘Salt Bae’ stingy with wait staff wages: lawsuit [NYDN]