A quick glance at Salt Bae’s recent Instagram posts offered a hint that his Boston restaurant opening could get dicey.
The restaurateur and social media star, whose real name is Nusret Gökçe, has made a career out of carving and posing with enormous cuts of beef, usually while wearing a pec-hugging white T-shirt and shades. Whether his steakhouses -- in New York, Miami, and overseas -- are any good has generally seemed beside the point. Gökçe, known to his millions of fans as Salt Bae, was the point.
Is he a brilliant Turkish butcher and chef with a penchant for memes? A Johnny Depp doppelganger with killer abs? Why does he insist on salting his dishes that way, with a flick of the wrist best captured in delicious and ridiculous slow mo?
Here’s what we know about Salt Bae’s Boston restaurant controversy. He opened Nusr-Et Boston at 100 Arlington St. on Sept. 18, and almost immediately began racking up health code violations. City inspectors reported that COVID-19 safety guidelines were being flouted. Crowds were not social distancing. Two fire exits were blocked, they said. Permits were not in order. The dishwasher was not running hot enough and the refrigerators were apparently too cold, according to inspectors.
By Saturday, the city had shut down Nusr-Et, and Bae is scheduled to appear before the city’s Licensing Board on Tuesday morning, officials said in a statement. Gökçe did not respond to requests for comments Monday.
But even before the restaurant opened its doors, Salt Bae’s own Instagram story raised some questions. In one, he swanned around the Back Bay space, greeting people without a mask. He posed with his face awfully close a lot of raw meat. One day, he posted a photo where he balanced what looked to be an immense tomahawk steak on one finger — with no pesky mask obscuring his famous features.
In a city where the restaurant scene has been crippled by the pandemic, news of Salt Bae’s arrival was a jolt. He was doing what, when? Restaurant owners have been desperately trying to stay afloat for months, stationing tables outdoors, streamlining take-out services, and making payments touchless to keep customers and employees safe. And yet here was a high-profile restaurant opening, held inside, one that drew throngs of customers and fans and curiosity seekers.
A video from Sept. 19 captured scads of young women in strappy high heels waiting to get into Nusr-Et, as if it were 2019, not 2020. Inside the restaurant, customers waited in tight quarters, though mercifully they all looked to be masked. At one point the camera popped out the glass front doors and a scrum of young men cheered and held up their cell phones. “Let’s goooo!” one dude yelled. “What’s up, Salt Bae!” The video has been viewed 2.5 million times.
The question now is will Salt Bae be able to persuade the Licensing Board that his restaurant will abide by COVID guidelines going forward? Will he assure officials that the other health and safety issues be resolved? Or will they take it all with a grain of salt?
Hayley Kaufman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.