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Salt Bae Sprinkles Some Tip Pooling and Wage Theft in Miami Restaurant, Lawsuit Alleges

The once-viral chef continues his slide into milkshake duck territory

Nusret Gökçe, seasons a sliced steak by crooking his elbow and letting salt fall from his pinched fingers.
The man known as Salt Bae demonstrates his signature seasoning technique.
Photo: Jean Schwarzwalder/Eater NY

Salt Bae (real name: Nusret Gökçe), the Turkish butcher whose uncomfortably sensual — and highly memeable — meat cutting and salt sprinkling prowess captured the internet’s deranged attention in 2017, continues his slide into milkshake duck territory with a judge’s recent ruling that servers at Gökçe’s Nusr-et Steakhouse in Miami can join in a collective-action lawsuit against the restaurateur for tip pooling and not paying minimum wage or overtime.

Gökçe, whose steakhouse chain includes outposts in New York and Dubai, was sued in federal court in January by a server at his Miami restaurant, the Miami Herald reports. In her lawsuit, the waitress, Melissa Compere, claimed that the restaurant illegally shared front-of-house tips with non-tipped workers, including coffee makers, sushi makers, and management, whose positions didn’t rely on gratuities. Per the Herald:

Florida law says Nusr-et can charge a flat service fee that it can use to recoup losses (such as broken dishes) before splitting the money with its workers, according to the Florida Fair Labor Standards Act. However, if a bill includes a separate line for tips, that money must go directly to workers whose salary is dependent on tips.

Compere says the restaurant lumped those tips and the service charge into the pool that went to all employees. She claims the way Nusr-et split the tips kept workers like her from making the mandated minimum wage.

Now, with the judge’s order that other tipped employees may join in the lawsuit, there could be as many as 200 tipped workers in Miami who are eligible to sue Nusr-et Steakhouse, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Gökçe, whose star once seemed to shine so bright that Leonardo DiCaprio himself ate meat seasoned with Salt Bae’s signature “salt crystals bouncing off arm bent in a swan-like formation” technique, has generated an expected amount of controversy since his initial rise to fame, including over: bragging about feeding Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, serving Large Adult Son Donald Trump, Jr., operating restaurants that maybe aren’t all that good, possibly violating health codes, and getting sued for skimming tips in New York in a case similar to the charges in Miami.

As if this collective-action lawsuit weren’t enough bad news for Gökçe, Ferit Sahenk, the Turkish billionaire who owns the Nusr-et chain among other businesses, is looking to cut $890 million in assets, Bloomberg reports. While there’s no indication that Nusr-et is one of the investments that could be disposed of, it might be prudent for Gökçe to stop shorting tips and getting sued, lest his restaurants, like all his infamous slabs of meat, end up on the chopping block.