Update, October 1, 2020: What a week it’s been for Nusret Gökçe, aka Salt Bae, aka the most headline-grabbing restaurateur of 2020. After the closure of Nusr-Et Boston due to health and safety violations like blocked fire exits and a failure to follow social distancing guidelines, NBC Boston reports that a lawyer for Mr. Bae has issued profuse apologies for the whole ordeal.
“We’re just very apologetic and want to make sure we work cooperatively with the board, with the police department, with (the Boston Inspectional Services Department),” Dennis Quilty, lawyer for Nusr-Et Boston, said during a licensing board meeting that addressed the closure. He implied that the violations were due to the tremendous buzz that Salt Bae had brought to the area; indeed, residents in the neighborhood reported long lines of patrons (not spaced six feet apart) waiting to get into the restaurant, and Salt Bae himself posing for selfies with customers, which could be seen as encouraging the violation of social distancing rules.
Quilty told the board that the “hope and desire” is for the restaurant to continue normal operations and make adjustments to better adhere to guidelines and (hopefully) diminish the chaos. But chaos seems to be a part of Salt Bae’s brand at this point, so we’ll see what fate has in store for Nusr-Et.
Original post, September 28, 2020: September 18 marked the grand opening of Nusr-Et Boston, the newest jewel in the Salt Bae steakhouse empire. Seven short days later, Boston’s Licensing Board and Inspectional Services Department shut it down for health and safety violations. This is not the first time one of Mr. Bae’s restaurants has had a scrap with “The Man”: in 2018 he had a minor kerfuffle with the New York City Health Department for doing his trademark salt sprinkle without protective gloves, and in 2019, cops were called to Nusr-Et Miami when a Florida Man refused to pay for his gold-plated steaks. (He has also been sued by employees in both cities.) Perhaps incidents like these are nothing but white noise in other cities, but in Boston, if you mess around with public safety, then God help you and everyone you love.
Most of the violations cited are nothing extraordinary: there were equipment issues, like dishwashers missing thermometers, and paperwork snafus, like a missing health permit, and no printed proof of a full-time, on-site food protection manager. Unsurprisingly, Nusr-Et Boston—which features an opulent, party-like atmosphere—was also failing to follow the city’s COVID-19 safety guidelines. Nearly all of these violations, it should be noted, were fixed within 24 hours and will be addressed at a city hearing scheduled for tomorrow.
The most serious charge Mr. Bae & Company are facing is over two blocked fire exits, which were discovered during a September 23 inspection. The city of Boston takes fire safety extremely seriously in part because of the infamous Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire of 1942, which killed 492 people and seriously injured hundreds more. The fire was a freak accident, accidentally started by a busboy who lit a match to help him change a burnt-out lightbulb, but the massive number of casualties would have been avoided had the club’s fire exits not been locked shut or obstructed. This event contributed to a complete overhaul of U.S. fire codes and safety standards: Exit signs became mandatory, inward-swinging exit doors were banned, and revolving doors were required to fold flat in case of an evacuation emergency. Nusr-Et Boston, incidentally, is located only one block away from where the Cocoanut Grove once stood.
The fire safety violations will be addressed in a separate hearing tomorrow, but there might be more consequences than a simple fine. City councilor Ed Flynn, who represents Nusr-Et’s neighborhood, told the Boston Globe he will be pushing for harsher penalties.
“It is outrageous that this restaurant continues to place the public health of thousands at risk,” Flynn told the paper. “The restaurant is more interested in making money than the public health of the people of Boston. I will ask the city Licensing Board to suspend the license indefinitely. I have zero tolerance for this reckless behavior.”