Food Industry

Salt Bae Accused of Sexism at His Brickell Steakhouse

Nusret Gökçe, AKA Salt Bae
Nusret Gökçe, AKA Salt Bae Twitter
Nusret Gökçe didn't want to see any female servers on the floor of his Brickell Avenue restaurant while he was in town to dramatically sprinkle salt onto high-priced steaks, according to a complaint recently filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).

"I was regularly required to work lower-paying jobs and shifts because of my sex," Melissa Compere states in the EEOC filing. Compere also filed a lawsuit this month alleging the restaurant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay workers legal wages and tips. "I suffered humiliation and mental and emotional distress because of this discrimination, [and] I was also terminated for a reason I believe was pretextual and that I would not have been terminated but for my sex/gender."

"Often times this was at the direction of the chef Nusret Gökçe," Robert W. Brock II of the Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin said, "who would direct that women not work as servers when he was in the restaurant at night."

The filing with the agency, whose Miami office was closed during what was the longest government shutdown in history, is a request to investigate the matter, which will determine whether an official lawsuit can be filed. If the agency finds an abundance of such treatment, it might take over the suit.

No one at Gökçe's Miami restaurant responded to New Times' requests for comment.

At the same time, a January 18 lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Florida alleged that during the 15-month period she worked at Gökçe's Miami restaurant, Compere and others weren't paid an hourly wage and received only a portion of the tip pool that the restaurant improperly gathered through an automatic 18 percent charge. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, restaurants are allowed to pay tipped employees below minimum wage as long as their total hourly wage and overtime wage meet or exceed federal minimums. As long as they do so in Florida, eateries can also add a so-called gratuity or service charge to a bill and keep it if they choose. Of course, most restaurants that aspire to employ servers don't do so, but it isn't uncommon for eateries that issue the service charge to keep some portion of it and use it for expenses such as broken glassware or credit card fees.

In Nusr-et's case, however, Compere alleges that the automatic charge was illegal and that parts of it were kept by the steakhouse for improper uses.

She and others "were required to turn in all of their cash tips to a cashier, and these tips were shared with non-tipped employees. Ms. Compere was required to pay for impermissible business expenses, such as the purchase and maintenance of required work uniform items. Ms. Compere was required to perform non-tip-producing side work for 20% or more of her work time, [and] throughout her employment, [Compere] regularly worked in excess of 40 hours per seven-day week," the complaint reads.

A similar lawsuit was filed January 15 in New York, where Gökçe owns another restaurant.

Since a video of the buff, tan restaurateur sprinkling salt on steaks went viral in 2017, investors have clamored for a piece of his internet fame, giving him the ability to expand his restaurant empire beyond Istanbul and Turkey and into Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, New York, and Miami.

The 36-year-old sparked outrage in Miami just as he was opening his restaurant here after posting a picture of himself posing in front of an oversize image of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. A year later, he drew the ire of many Miamians after a picture of him serving Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro surfaced while the country was plunging further into turmoil and desperation, with gangs recruiting members via mere bags of groceries.

Nusr-et Steakhouse. 999 Brickell Ave., Miami; 305-415-9990;
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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson