Nusret Gökçe’s career as a restaurateur took a turn at the start of 2017 when the internet became obsessed with the unique way he sprinkled salt—with one raised bent arm he dropped speckles from his fingertips onto a dish.
Meme culture took over, and ever since, Gökçe has widely been known as “Salt Bae.” Six years later, the restaurateur has more than 53 million followers on Instagram. It’s a popularity surge that he’s used to widely expand Nusr-Et, his global steakhouse chain. The title is a combination of his name and “Et,” which means “meat” in Turkish.
The brand has 28 restaurants in seven countries (including the U.S.), with nearly 2,000 employees. Ten of those restaurants have opened in the past three years. Between 2018 and 2022, systemwide sales increased 57 percent and unit count more than doubled from 12 to 28. In the U.S. specifically, sales lifted 38 percent and unit count jumped from two to seven.
FSR recently sat down with COO Al Avci to learn more about the steakhouse and what future growth looks like for the brand.
Could you provide background about how Nusr-Et started and when you joined the brand?
I started with the company in 2015. I started in Turkey to actually learn the concept. So the journey started back in 2010 Mr. Nusret opened his initial restaurant as a mom-and-pop restaurant with 20 seats back in 2010 in Istanbul, in a town called Etiler. We expanded that location. That’s our flagship location and it has about 320 seats. So from that location very rapidly we start expanding in Turkey. Within two years from 2010 to 2012, we opened five restaurants in Turkey. Our first abroad restaurant was in Dubai, and that opened back in 2015. Following were Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Riyadh. Our first U.S. location opened in Miami. Our headquarters in the U.S. in the Miami location opened back in 2017.
And following the Miami location, three months after, we opened our other flagship restaurant in New York midtown.
In terms of the growth story in America, at seven locations now, how are you guys determining where you want to put your next location? How are you guys choosing cities in which to grow?
Our real estate team makes that study and then shows us the location. We will be in different cities. There are additional growth potentials on the way. So the Nusr-Et brand will be growing in Europe and Asia, in cities such as Madrid, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, São Paulo, and many other are on the radar. So our real estate team, they are letting us know about the locations and Mr. Nusret actually goes to locations and then checks these locations with the team.
The U.S. is your second-largest market overall. Do you anticipate that the U.S. may one day become your largest market?
Absolutely yes we do. Our last location that we opened in Vegas, it’s our biggest location. And in the very near future, the Vegas location will be one of our flagships. We have about 500 seats in that location. Right now, we have locations in Beverly Hills, Dallas, Miami, Boston, and New York—two locations in New York.
From what I’m hearing about the number of seats you guys have in your dining room, it seems like pretty large locations. Do you know what the average square footage of these steakhouses are?
[Las Vegas] is 15,000 square feet. A location with two floors—two independent restaurants upstairs and downstairs. So we are having special parties upstairs without actually bothering any of our guest downstairs. That’s our biggest property globally. And overall in the U.S., our properties are about 160 to 200 seats, which is about 8,000 to 10,000 square feet.
In terms of differences between the international steakhouses and the ones in the U.S., maybe in terms of menu or design or anything like that, are there any major differences you could point out between how they look and how the customer experience is inside the restaurant?
That’s a great question because it’s very important that I talk briefly about the American Wagyu steaks. So 90 percent of our menu consists of American Wagyu steaks. So that is our niche actually in the U.S. market. And of course, our five-star diamond service. Nusret himself is very involved with the operation and we learned a lot from chef Nusret. When the doors open at 12 o’clock, lunchtime, our managers are in the dining room and just catering to the guest —table touches, talking to the guest, and educating the consumer with this American Wagyu steak—what it means and what is it and what’s the difference between the prime and the Wagyu. As well as the entertainment. So all our U.S. locations have DJs. So the music is great. Employees are enjoying actually working. We have shows of meat cutters actually doing the tableside service.
What would you say are the customer demographics? What’s the typical customer that would walk into one of these steakhouses?
We have all sorts of customers coming through the door. We have young teenagers that follow [Nusret] very religiously on his Instagram. We have ranges from 20 years old to 70 years old actually. So every type of guest comes through the door and we have great menu selections, from not only steaks but also seafood dishes as well. Amazing salad. So we have a wide variety of dishes to cater to all the customers.
Earlier I was asking about the U.S. locations and what markets you’re going to. And I want to ask the same thing for international. You listed some countries that you were headed toward in the future. What’s the mindset behind choosing countries? How are you guys determining where you want to go next internationally?
We would like to be in the cities that have the most population. And the best real estates out there. All our locations are top locations, amazing real estate, amazing properties, and amazing cities, of course. And we will actually be in the cities where the world is visiting because we are a worldly known, global company and we are growing rapidly for 13 years and we are continuing growth. So, currently we have 28 locations and in 2025 we’re expecting this number to be 40.
In regard to the macroeconomic environment, the word “recession” has been tossed around a lot, particularly in the U.S. I imagine inflation has been an issue in other countries as well. Given the size of the restaurants you guys are building, I imagine that some are pretty costly. So the idea of you guys building these restaurants with inflation going the way it is and talks of recession, could you walk me through how you are managing through that?
Inflation at the beginning of the year was about 9 percent. That is correct. As you know, about 50-52 million people follow Mr. Nusret on Instagram. And he actually does our PR as well as our PR department, our marketing department. It’s helping us to reach out to everybody globally in the world. So, as I mentioned, we are a very, very well-known global company. So yes, inflation was high, but our revenues are growing. Thanks to our marketing team and the PR team, we are able to educate the public about what Wagyu steak is. And It’s an experience to actually come and try.
Our numbers are growing because of this niche and because of the quality of the product that we serve as well as the quality of the service that we have. So as I mentioned, it’s the entertainment part as well as the service and the quality of the food. When you gather all these three most important aspects, that’s a successful team. So that’s why we are very successful with all the locations that we open. In some locations we have reservations that we have to take it two weeks or three weeks from now.