Salt Bae’s new burger joint, which has been under construction for about a year at 220 Park Avenue South, near Union Square Park, finally opened last Friday — complete with a promotion giving free veggie burgers in pink buns to women only. It took less than a week for the restaurant’s bizarre food lineup to go viral, starting when New York Magazine’s restaurant critic Adam Platt tweeted out a photo of the stunt-filled menu.
The whole menu, including the free-veggie-burgers-for-women promotion, is part of Salt Bae’s global playbook for the burger chain, according to Al Avci, the general manager of Nusr-Et’s operations in the U.S.
“We wanted to compliment the ladies,” Avci tells Eater. The promotion went well at Salt Bae’s previous opening in Dubai, and “that’s why we brought it here,” he says. “We weren’t thinking it would be sexist.” If men ask for the veggie burger, the restaurant will dish it out free of charge to them as well. “In reality, nobody is paying for the veggie burger,” Avci says. The veggie burger is also quite small — it’s more like a free appetizer promotion than a free meal.
The 65-seat, casual offshoot of Nusr-et Steakhouse is part of a larger chain that the company has been promoting for awhile. At the Union Square location, there’s seven burgers on the menu, plus a selection of fries, milkshakes, beer, wine, and soda. The veggie burger thing is accompanied by some other gimmicky menu items, like a $100 wagyu burger garnished with gold leaves and an accompanying “golden shake” for $99. There’s also a $9.95 wet burger that’s similar to a Sloppy Joe and is served with gloves. On the alcohol list, every beer is $7.95, whether it’s a Miller Lite or a lager from Brooklyn Brewery.
Nusret Gökçe, the Turkish butcher-slash-Instagram celebrity who opened up an outpost of the expensive, critically-panned Nusr-et Steakhouse in Manhattan in 2018, was aiming for a more accessible line of restaurants with the Salt Bae burger chain. The opening promotions will run for about three months (or less), according to Avci, and customers “love it” so far. (Avci declined to allow Eater to speak with customers in the restaurant during the interview.)
In the months leading up to the opening of Salt Bae, the restaurant’s parent company has been sued repeatedly for labor law violations, with lawsuits citing everything from wage theft to sexual harassment at the restaurants. Avci declined to comment on the lawsuits other than to say that “everything is up to code and there is no problem whatsoever.”
Salt Bae plans to expand the concept to Miami next, Avci says, with an outpost of the chain opening in that city in the next six months.