Salt Bae’s top managers promised Tuesday to bring the Internet sensation’s new Boston restaurant into compliance with COVID-19 regulations as the Licensing Board was told the soft opening of the restaurant caused “pandemonium” and “chaos” in its downtown neighborhood.
“We take COVID measures, rules, and regulations very seriously, and safety comes first,” said Naki Ufuk Soyturk, representing the restaurant, Nusr-Et. “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.”
Soyturk delivered his statement at a hearing before the board, which shut down the restaurant and confiscated Nurs-Et’s liquor license Saturday after fielding complaints from neighbors, Boston police, and the city’s Inspectional Services Department.
“The board felt this was a necessary action due the the strain on city resources to responding to calls of lack of social distancing repeatedly since this restaurant was open,” said Kathleen Joyce, the board’s chairwoman.
The board discussed three formal complaints of code violations Tuesday that cited a failure to adhere to pandemic safety protocols, to prevent lines from forming, and to maintain unobstructed fire exits. Board members asked Nusr-Et representatives for a copy of the restaurant’s updated security and safety plan before they vote later in the week on how to proceed.
More than 60 people — many of whom did not turn on their cameras — attended the hearing, held on Zoom. Separate complaints about Pink Taco, Pollo Centro, La Gran Mananza, and Bartaco were also on the agenda.
Nusr-Et representatives said Salt Bae, whose real name is Nusret Gökçe, is still in Boston. But he did not appear at the meeting.
Dennis Quilty, the Boston attorney representing Nusr-Et, called a confluence of factors that led to crowds around the 100 Arlington St. restaurant a “perfect storm.” He said Nusr-Et was dealing with the rush of opening weekend, including a swarm of patrons who arrived without reservations, hoping to spot Salt Bae.
The company said it did not advertise the soft opening but acknowledged that Salt Bae used his social media platforms to announce his plans for the Boston restaurant.
The restaurant "was overwhelmed, unfortunately,” Quilty said. “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.”
Manager Ali Avci said he and three staff members tried to disperse the crowds. “I directed them to go to the guests and tell them to leave the property,” he said. “Most of them did.”
Avci also said tables were at least six feet apart at all times and anyone without a reservation was barred from entering the restaurant.
Board chairwoman Kathleen Joyce encouraged the restaurant to hire more security personnel to deal the influx of people in the future — at least while Bae remains in town.
Neighbors who testified disagreed with Avci’s accounts.
Sarah Herlihy, who lives near the Nusr-Et, said employees amplified guests' unsafe behavior, rather than denouncing it.
“I saw staff coming out to assist people, but I didn’t see staff coming out to attempt to limit the line,” she said. “The behavior seemed to be encouraged by the staff versus controlled by the staff. . . . It was pandemonium on the sidewalk."
Brian Boisvert, who said he passed the restaurant while walking his dog, said the sidewalk brimmed with crowds all weekend.
"Calling this a line is . . . a misnomer,'' he explained. “I mean, it was in the entire sidewalk, which is jampacked with people, you know, taking selfies and . . . gathering and chatting. . . . It was chaos. It was absolute chaos in front of that whole weekend, frankly.”