Even though the doors haven’t yet opened, social media star Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe’s Dallas restaurant Nusr-Et Steakhouse is already embroiled in legal and financial drama.
In a lawsuit filed in Dallas County District Court on Thursday, January 21, Dallas-based construction company BengeTexas alleges that Nusr-Et owes more than $933,000 in unpaid bills due to both BengeTexas and its subcontractors for construction on the restaurant at 1900 Pearl Street in Downtown Dallas. According to the affidavit filed by owner Jim Benge, Nusr-Et’s ownership has failed to pay for everything from the installation of the kitchen’s refrigerators to the custom-cut ceiling tiles in the restaurant’s dining room.
Speaking with Eater on Wednesday, Benge says that payments on the project started to slow as the COVID-19 crisis intensified in 2020. “We prefer to be paid $200,000 at a time,” he says, “and they were sending $25,000.” According to Benge, Nusr-Et Steakhouse owes the money to both his company and other subcontractors across DFW, all of whom have already completed their work on the space.
“There’s tablecloths on the tables and it’s ready to go,” Benge said, noting that the restaurant has already secured the necessary permits it needs to open its doors.
On Monday, January 25, Nusr-Et Steakhouse responded to BengeTexas’s lawsuit with a countersuit, claiming that it had diverted more than $182,000 in subcontractor payments directly to Steve Regan, a former Nusr-Et employee and project manager on the Dallas restaurant, instead of paying the subcontractors. The suit alleges that Benge and Regan entered into a “secret arrangement” to divert the payments to Regan, and that Regan was later fired from the company.
“Defendants negligently and fraudulently misrepresented amounts payable to BengeTexas and concealed the fact that monies were being paid to Regan,” the suit reads in part. “What has become apparent is Defendants were all engaged in a scheme to defraud Nusret.”
The countersuit also claims that the $574,000 outlined in the lien affidavit is “presumably false,” and asks the court to declare the lien invalid. In addition, the suit seeks payment for attorney’s fees and other costs associated with filing the lawsuit. Eater has reached out to Nusr-Et Steakhouse’s attorneys for comment on the suit, and will update this post if more details become available.
Benge isn’t the only contractor who claims that Nusr-Et Dallas is behind on its bills. In a separate affidavit, filed in Dallas County late last year, Whitley’s Welding and Custom Iron owner Wardell Whitley alleges that the steakhouse’s owners failed to pay him $14,000 for work completed on the project. When reached for comment by Eater, Whitley declined to comment further on the lien. In November 2020, Carrollton-based electrician K.C. Electrical Systems also filed a lien affidavit against the restaurant, alleging $65,132 in unpaid debts.
The chain has also been the source of controversy in other American cities. Last fall, Nusr-Et opened a location in Boston that was temporarily shut down for not having the correct permits to operate. Before that, the company was accused of illegal tip pooling and wage theft at its Miami and New York restaurants. “Salt Bae” himself has also courted controversy over incidents like serving steaks to authoritarian Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
It’s unclear why Nusr-Et’s Dallas arrival, in the works since 2017, has been plagued by so many delays. In 2019, Gökçe posted to his Instagram account that the steakhouse was opening “very soon,” and in October 2020, Eater reported that the chain planned to open sometime in November. Nusr-Et has still not opened, though a source who asked to remain anonymous tells Eater that its arrival could be imminent — as soon as February 12.