Salt Bae is leaving Boston soon and that should end the crowds of celebrity hounds who'd turned Arlington Street in Park Square into a potential superspreader spot in the eight days his steak place was open before the city shut it down, Salt Bae's local lawyer and two of his sub-Baes told the Boston Licensing Board today.
Nusret, 100 Arlington St., will remain shut until at least Thursday, when the licensing board considers lifting the shutdown and liquor-license suspension it ordered Saturday after repeated complaints from residents - and a citation from licensing detectives - about a lack of social distancing and mask wearing both outside and inside the restaurant. The restaurant was also given a $300 ticket by an ISD health inspector for violating city and state social-distancing guidelines.
"When we are hearing really egregious and serious complaints about public-health violations, it is our responsibility to address them," board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce said in one of three hearings on the restaurant today. She emphasized the board was not even considering the Instagram posts by the Bae himself, just testimony from police officers, an ISD inspector and nearby residents.
Joyce said officials decided to shut the place Saturday afternoon as both a public-health threat and because city resources were being drained by having to deal with so many complaints to various city departments over the past week about conditions there.
"We aren't making any excuses, we should have done a better job," Ufuk Soyturk, a Nusret corporate executive, told the board.
The Bae himself did not attend the hearing, unlike the opening of the restaurant, but his Boston manager, Ali Avci, said that both he and the Bae are really torn up by what happened; the Bae is "very, very upset by these situations." Avci said neither he nor his boss have gotten more than an hour of sleep in the past three days.
"We cannot hide from the fact that the chef is an international celebrity," attorney Dennis Quilty said. "It was a perfect storm, if you will, of his celebrity causing a lot of this traffic outside."
Soyturk and Quilty said the celebrity hounds will soon no longer have a reason to flock to Arlington Street: The Bae, also known as Nusret Gökçe, plans to decamp from Boston soon, to sprinkle salt on steaks at his other 21 restaurants.
That can't happen fast enough for several nearby residents, who testified about conditions both on Arlington Street and inside the restaurant on the first few opening nights.
Nancy Morrisroe of Bay Village said she went to take a look after her daughter came home Saturday night to report that Salt Bae himself was outside the restaurant doing selfies. She told the board he was still doing that when she walked by - in particular with "the ladies."
"The entire sidewalk was just jam packed with people taking selfies and chatting and whatnot," Brian Boisvert, who lives on Piedmont Street, told the board. "It was chaos, absolute chaos, that whole weekend frankly."
Steve Coyle, who lives in the building that houses the restaurant, agreed with their accounts about the sidewalk conditions. Inside the restaurant, he said, " it was pandemonium." He said at one point he saw a maskless Salt Bae mingling with guests inside. Coyle did not go inside himself, but the restaurant has large picture windows overlooking Arlington Street - one with a rendering of the chef in his Internet-famous sprinkling position.
Quilty and Avci said their Open Table-based reservations system ensured the restaurant inside was not packed. Avci denied that tables were jammed together - he said he and his staff had an actual tape measure to ensure chairs at one table were no closer than six feet to the chairs at another. Outside, markers were placed every 12 feet to ensure distancing, he said.
Under questioning from Quilty, BPD Det. Eddie Hernandez acknowledged that Avci and three or four staffers came outside and tried to get people without reservations to leave at the height of the crowding around 8:45 p.m. that Saturday.
"He attempted to try to bring the line into compliance, but it never really happened," Hernandez said.
Avci said the first opening was intended to be a "soft" one and that the restaurant did no advertising and that he did not post anything on social media. However, he acknowledged that Salt Bae himself did post on social media, even after all the restaurant's seats were reserved.
Also up for discussion today: A citation issued by licensing detectives for blocked fire exits - a front exit blocked by a table at which two guests were sitting and a kitchen exit partially blocked by some trash and a bucket. Detectives acknowledged that restaurant staff quickly moved both the table and the items in front of the rear exit.
Quilty formally protested this past weekend's shutdown, saying his client never had the chance to try to object beforehand and that the official notice of a hearing about it only showed up yesterday, less than 24 hours before today's hearing.
Joyce acknowledged his objection, but said officials had no choice but to end what they considered a threat to public health and safety.