Lic. Board Discusses COVID-19 Violations at New Restaurant Owned by Social Media-Famous Salt Bae

Nusr-Et Steakhouse, a group of restaurants owned by Internet famous butcher and chef Nusret Gokce, better known as “Salt Bae,” opened a Boston location on September 18 and has already been shut down by the City for violating COVID-19 regualtions. The restaurant is located at 100 Arlington St. in Bay Village.

The City’s Licensing Board held a virtual hearing on September 30, where three violations, in-cluding failure to follow Governor’s Advisory for no lines in front of establishments, two blocked fire exits, and failure to wear masks, were up for discussion. Several members of the Bay Vil-lage community, some involved with the Bay Village Neighborhood Association, testified at the hearing as to what they observed relating to the incidents at hand.

Kathleen Joyce, Chair of the Licensing Board, said that many complaints were received re-garding the opening and operation of this restaurant, which led to investigations by the Boston Police and the Inspectional Services Department.

Attorney Dennis Quilty represented the licensee, and said he objected to the suspension of the license “without the benefit of a notice or hearing,” he said, as less than 24 hours notice was given for the matter up for discussion that occurred on September 26, with patrons and employees not wearing masks. The licensee was scheduled for two violations prior to  the third being added after the license was suspended.

“The board felt this was a necessary action,” Joyce said, in response to various complaints about non compliance with COVID guidelines and the “strain” it has put on the City to respond to the complaints. She said that’s why the third violation was added as an emergency hearing.

Boston Police Detective Eddie Hernandez reported that on September 19, police responded to a complaint of a large gathering outside of the restaurant. “Detectives observed a very long line of patrons,” he said. “Everyone in line was much closer than six feet apart.”

He said the manager was made aware that the line was not permitted, and said that staff said that they would bring the establishment into compliance with the guidelines.

Quilty said that “every attempt was made to move people,” as people were told they could not be there if they did not have a reservation. Manager Al Avci was present at the hearing, and said that “most people” complied with the request to leave.

Neighbor Brian Boisvert said he witnessed the same line as Hernandez when he walked his dog around the area. “Calling this a line is a misnomer,” he said. “The entire sidewalk was jam packed with people taking selfies and gathering and chatting. It was absolute chaos that whole weekend, frankly.”

Another neighbor, Steve Coyle, said that he witnessed a line beginning to form at around 7pm, and he saw Salt Bae come out “a number of times.” Nancy Morrisroe, also a neighbor, said that she repeatedly heard cheering and witnessed Salt Bae “encouraging people to take selfies with him.” She said that the police came around 8:30 or 8:45pm, and after that she still witnessed people gathering, though it was fewer than earlier.

Neighbor Sarah Herlihy, who said she lives behind the building, “saw staff coming out to assist people, not to limit the line,” she said, adding that the “behavior seemed to be encouraged by the staff rather than controlled by the staff.”

Joyce said that “they do have to make efforts to control the lines.” She said it is a restau-rant’s responsibility to ensure that people are socially distancing outside an establishment using markers or some other tool to keep people apart.

The Salt Bae team was apologetic at the hearing.

“I apologize on behalf of my team for the disturbance that happened the past six or seven days,” Avci said. He said that they are working on “immediate action to correct all of these issues. He said that this was a soft opening and was not announced on television or the radio, but there were some social media posts made about the opening. Once people found out about the opening, they started to show up, even though reservations were required.

Avci insisted that people were told to leave if they didn’t have a reservation, and instead, area restaurants got the business instead. He said that stickers have been placed on the ground 12 feet apart to encourage distancing.

Additionally, “there will be an updated security and operations plan,” Quilty said, and they will be meeting with the neighborhood association to go over the new plans, as well as will cooper-ate with City officials on enforcing guidelines moving forward.

The second matter, which relates to a violation of two blocked fire exits, occurred on Septem-ber 23.

Sergeant Detective William Gallagher reported that police responded to a complain that “the establishment was not following COVID guidelines” on September 23, with a line in front of the restaurant.

“As detectives walked through the restaurant, they observed a front fire exit blocked by a table and chairs,” Gallagher said. He also said that trash and cases of water were blocking another emergency exit in the kitchen. He confirmed that prior to police leaving the premises that night, the fire exits had been cleared.

Avci said that the tale has been removed from he front exit and the back kitchen exit will re-main “clear from now on.”

The final matter, which had a date of September 26 and a citation for “failure to adhere to Governor and Boston Licensing Board advisory on COVID-19 guidelines (patrons/employees not wearing mask), came about because Detective Hernandez reported that a licensed prem-ise inspection was conducted in response to “multiple complaints of the premise failing to ad-here to the governor’s COVID-19 guidelines.”

He said there were multiple social media postings demonstrating the failure to comply, includ-ing maskless patrons and employees, tables of more than six people, and no social distanc-ing. Hernandez said that the restaurant was ordered to “immediately cease operations” and the all alcohol beverage license was suspended and removed from the premise by detectives.

Hernandez said that there were no violations observed at 12:45pm on September 26, when detectives showed up at the restaurant, but there had been complaints prior to that day.

Daniel Prendergast, Principal Health Inspector for the City’s Inspectional Services Depart-ment, read testimony that was written by another inspector who was called out in response to “multiple COVID-19 violations.”

He said that the inspector “issued a COVID-19 violation with a $300 fine for failure to adhere to COVID-19 protocol and guidelines. At that time, he observed failure to comply with social and physical distancing.” He also reported that the restaurant was closed by the licensing board, which the inspector had accompanied, “on site at the time of inspection.”

Neighbor Steve Coyle said that while he did not call the police, he “observed Salt Bae with and without a mask,” and he saw the table blocking the fire exit on the Arlington side a few days prior.

“We are living in very strange times; we are living under different guidelines,” Joyce said. “This has been a complete drain on some of our resources and this is why we have been working with the management and their team to correct some of their violations.”

She said that after two weeks of responding to complaints from the neighborhood, the licens-ing board team went to the establishment on the 26th because of the “public health crisis” and the board’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of patrons and employees at establishments like this.

“The only reason why we are working diligently on this is because of the public health crisis,” she said. “When we are hearing really egregious, serious health complaints of public health vio-lations,” it is the responsibility of the Licensing Board to make sure they are addressed.

“I didn’t want to make our company’s debut like this,” Naki Ufuk Soyturk said on behalf of the company. He said that the company “takes these measures seriously,” and “we should have done a better job” to comply with the safety guidelines.

He said this is the company’s first restaurant in Boston and the first one opened since COVID-19 hit, and regulations differ in different regions of the country, though he said that they “aren’t making any excuses.”

Joyce said that “we are here to help you. We will work with you on your safety and operations plan.”

The Licensing Board is expected to vote on this issue this week.

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