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Munchies

The Group that Owns Salt Bae's Steakhouse Chain Is in Serious Financial Trouble

Salt Bae is the chef and face of Nusr-Et Steakhouse, but the restaurant chain is owned by a holding group with $2.5 billion of debt.

by Bettina Makalintal
Mar 25 2019, 2:00pm

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Ciroc

Salt Bae was an instant viral star. The same could not be said when Salt Bae’s Nusr-Et Steakhouse opened in New York City last year. The Observer called it “disappointing” and “awful,” and the New York Post named it “Public Rip-off No. 1,” serving leathery steaks with “gruesome globs of fat.” And New York Times critic Pete Wells didn’t hate it, but described the experience as strange and overpriced. Nusr-Et now has four dollar signs on Yelp, but only three and a half stars out of five.

Even with those claims of overpriced food that’s mediocre at best, Nusr-Et Steakhouse seems pretty successful worldwide. Although its New York location caused a stir, it was just another branch of Nusret Gokce’s Turkish steakhouse chain, founded before Gokce became meat’s leading meme. Currently, Salt Bae’s meat empire has 14 restaurants in Turkey, the US, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. But as Bloomberg reported, despite Nusr-Et’s global expansion, the holding group that owns it is struggling to deal with billions of dollars of debt and selling holdings as a result.

Salt Bae might be its sunglasses-covered face (and salt-throwing arms), but the Nusr-Et Steakhouse chain is owned by a Turkish holding group called Doğuş Holding AS, which claims over 300 investments throughout media, food, cars, real estate, and more. Even with its high profile, the group’s financials aren’t doing so well—the result of Turkey’s failing economy. Since 2018, the Turkish lira has crashed in value, which has made it difficult for the group to repay foreign exchange loans. In August, the Guardian wrote that the lira had fallen close to 50 percent against the dollar over the past year because of high inflation, government borrowing, and private sector debt.

According to Bloomberg, Doğuş has been selling holdings as it tries to restructure $2.5 billion of debt, plus another $5 billion in liabilities. It’s not clear how that might affect the group’s restaurant investments like Nusr-Et Steakhouse, but to date, it’s mostly been selling off hotels. Things might not shake out too badly for Salt Bae, though: Bloomberg wrote that Doğuş recently sold Istanbul’s Park Hyatt Hotel to “Nusret Turizm Yatirim AS, owned by the founder of Nusr-Et,” who happens to be Gokce.

Shaky financial backing and bad reviews aside, Gokce and his steakhouse chain have plenty of other drama to deal with. In mid-January, a former server at Nusr-Et’s New York location sued Gokce for wage theft and tip theft, followed by a similar suit in Florida a few days later. That’s in addition to the criticism Gokce has received for imitating Fidel Castro, and the blowback he got for serving a $275 steak to Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, whose country has a poverty rate of roughly 90 percent. The milkshake duck comes for every meme.

But if you don’t give a shit about any of that and you’ve got a couple of hundred bucks to throw at a meal—and you really want the Instagram post—you can still get a steak at Nusr-Et (the “Ottoman steak” is $130, according to the Times). Given the chain’s global reach, though, who knows if Salt Bae will even be there?