The chef known as Salt Bae is in hot water again.
The Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, known as Salt Bae for his meme of sprinkling salt over meat, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay his workers proper wages and tips, a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York by a former server claims. A similar lawsuit filed against his Miami restaurant on Jan. 18 asserts the same.
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“This suit reflects restaurants that too often take advantage of their employees by failing to pay them proper wages,” said Douglas Lipsky, the attorney representing the New York City server.
Mustafa Fteja worked at the New York branch of Nusret Gökçe’s eponymous restaurant, Nusr-Et Steakhouse, from January to December of 2018. The lawsuit says that the restaurant failed to pay the minimum wage, overtime premium pay and unlawfully kept tips, among other things.
The Miami plaintiff, Melissa Compere, is suing for similar reasons in the Southern District of Florida, her attorney said.
“We filed the lawsuit against Salt Bae, suing for back wages, for overtime pay as well as to recover the tips taken from her,” Compere’s attorney, Robert W. Brock II of the Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin, said. “And also for a significant period of her employment, along with other employees, she was paid zero dollars.”
The suit claims the 18 percent gratuity automatically tacked on to the bill was considered to be the restaurant’s property, Kuvin said.
“It’s a little game they can play down here,” Brock told us.
Compere, who worked at the restaurant as a server and two other positions, has taken this collective action on behalf of herself and others “similarly situated.” The class action lawsuit is, Brock says, “For all tipped employees who worked during this time period.”
Kuvin and Brock have represented other restaurant workers in the past, including Ocean Drive’s Columbus Restaurant, which was also accused of price gouging tourists. (The two attorneys worked their way through law school as servers at Joe’s Stone Crab.)
“We enjoyed it a lot and still kind of miss it,” Kuvin told us. “Joe’s was nice enough to allow us to work as well as go to school at the same time to become attorneys. ”
Gökçe’s representatives have not returned calls or emails for comment.
Gökçe has been involved in several controversies in the last year since he brought his restaurant — reportedly part of a$1.5 billion empire — to the United States.
An Instagram photo of him dressing in homage to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was unearthed just as his Miami restaurant was opening. And in September of 2018 he was criticized for hosting Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro at his Istanbul restaurant, as Venezuelans grapple with widespread food scarcity.