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Salt Bae Faces Allegations of Copyright Infringement in Latest Legal Battle

A Brooklyn artist alleges the viral chef illegally used his artwork as part of a $5 million lawsuit

A photograph of a mural on a wall depicting a man in a white t-shirt, black pants, and sunglasses sprinkling salt over an imaginary steak
The mural, pictured at Nusr-Et in Midtown, at the heart of the latest lawsuit against Nusret Gökçe
Jean Schwarzwalder/Eater

Nusret Gökçe, the Turkish butcher otherwise known as Salt Bae, is embroiled in legal drama once again, this time due to alleged copyright infringement of artwork depicting the chef in his signature salt-sprinkling pose.

In a lawsuit filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 12, Brooklyn-based artist William Hicks is suing Gökçe for $5 million in damages after the chef reportedly printed his art on menus, takeout bags, and signs at international Nusr-Et Steakhouse locations in Turkey, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates without permission. Gökçe never sought a license to use the artwork and has yet to compensate Hicks for use of the copyright, the lawsuit alleges. Eater has reached out to Gökçe for more information.

According to the lawsuit, Gökçe commissioned Hicks and another artist in September 2017 to create and install a mural of the chef in his internet famous salt-sprinkling pose for a location of his international restaurant chain Nusr-Et Steakhouse in Miami. Additional murals were reportedly commissioned and installed at Nusr-Et Steakhouse locations in New York, Dubai, and Istanbul. Andrew Gerber, an attorney representing Hicks, declined to disclose how much Hicks was paid for the artwork initially.

Following the installations at those restaurant locations, the lawsuit alleges Gökçe continued to print the artwork at his restaurants without compensating Hicks or obtaining a license to use the art. Hicks declined through a lawyer to speak further about the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time the Turkish restaurateur has been embroiled in legal drama. In 2019, workers at Nusr-et Steakhouse locations in Manhattan and Miami joined a collective-action lawsuit against Gökçe, alleging the viral chef underpaid employees, pooled tips, and declined to pay some staff overtime. Then, earlier this year, a Texas-based construction company sued the restaurant chain, alleging it owed more than $933,000 in unpaid bills following the construction of a Nusr-Et Steakhouse location in Downtown Dallas.

Despite Gökçe opening one of the worst restaurants in NYC, the Turkish restaurateur continues to expand the Nusr-Et brand, with new locations in Boston and Dallas, as well as a restaurant planned for London.