An internationally renowned steakhouse opens in Dallas, despite two legal disputes between the restaurateur and the Dallas contractor who oversaw construction.

Nusr-Et Steakhouse, a dazzling new restaurant from famous colorful Turkish restaurateur Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe, opens on March 4th, 1900 in Uptown at N. Pearl St. 1900.

Gökçe is an amusing character with a strong social media game and is very knowledgeable about lawsuits. He was sued by staff at his restaurants in New York and Miami for abuse tips and overtime payments.

But in Dallas, he met his contentious match in Jim Benge, a contractor who specializes in building restaurants and has been involved in at least two dozen lawsuits, including one with his own brother Jay, whom Benge hired and then fired.

Nusr-Et and Benge have duel suits alleging that Nusr-Et did not pay bills and that an employee was allegedly involved in diverting funds to BengeTexas.

Other Dallas restaurants that have been involved in Benge lawsuits in recent years include Mellow Mushroom, Haymaker, Stocks & Bondy, and TNT / Tacos & Tequila.

Those who have worked with Benge say he hires subcontractors and then doesn’t pay them after the job is done.

Most subcontractors are independent workers and have neither the resources to sue nor the years to invest in chasing the money. But one – Hertz Electric LLC and HTJ Global Electric LLC – hired a lawyer, Nathanial Martinez of Palter Sims Martinez PLLC, who won a 2019 verdict against Benge and his then-firm Benge General Contracting LLC.

Benge hired Hertz to do electrical work and painting on several projects in 2015, including Quill Lounge and Matchbox Pizza, but didn’t pay Hertz for the work. Benge then filed a lawsuit against Hertz alleging poor workmanship as the reason for non-payment, and Hertz countered for non-payment.

A Dallas County jury found Benge guilty of breach of contract and fraud, and awarded Hertz damages and legal fees.

Martinez says the case has been put back for trial more than nine times. “My customers wondered if they would ever reach a jury,” he says.

After Hertz won, Benge filed for bankruptcy in the northern district of Texas and formed a new entity called BengeTexas. As a result, Hertz filed a new lawsuit alleging that BengeTexas is a Shell company that Benge is using to transfer business and assets from its old company, Benge General Contracting, to avoid paying Hertz. This lawsuit is still pending.

Lawsuits are not uncommon in the world of contractors in the Wild West, where large sums of money are involved and customers are vulnerable. Texas has no contractor licensing process and there is little control.

Dallas restaurateur Jim Baron of Blue Mesa Grill hired Benge to work on TNT Tacos and Tequila in the Square. He says he was given a low estimate upfront, with fees added after the job was done.

“I’ve never seen a change order, not one,” says Baron. “In the end, he came to me with a bill for $ 70,000 and it was all the materials, like drywall, that the subcontractors should have provided but that weren’t included in the original estimate. He took a lien on the property. So is it possible with everyone. “

It ended in arbitration and a lawsuit, which Baron lost.

On the other hand, customers almost always choose the cheapest and most unrealistic contractor and can quickly face legal action if the work is not completed satisfactorily.

However, it is uncommon for contractors to sue subcontractors and family members.

Greatest hits

In July 2016, ISC Building Materials, a drywall company, filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting and Jim Benge over $ 6,710.44 in building materials to build Stocks & Bondy in 2014 at the Dallas Farmers Market.

In September 2016, there was a lawsuit and counterclaim between Benge General Contracting and Platform Manufacturing Group that Benge hired to perform steel manufacture and installation at the Public 972 restaurant in North Dallas. Benge’s $ 100,553 lawsuit alleged Platform failed to complete the job Benge hired for a replacement.

The platform said the site had not been prepared and Benge had not received proper permission to remove trees that were not on the drawings. Platform got just $ 43,500 of its $ 144,053 fee and looked for the remaining $ 100,553.

In October 2016, Brownco LLC’s Quality Mill Work filed a lawsuit against Jim Benge and Benge General Contracting for late payment of $ 43,420.21 for cabinet work in a showroom for client Ashton Woods.

In January 2017, Cowtown Excavation & Concrete, LLC filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting, LLC for late payment of $ 25,945.50 for the construction of Haymaker at 1516 Greenville Ave. together with Haymaker owner Dallas Mars Partners.

In April 2017, Quill Lounge filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting LLC and James Benge for breach of contract. “Benge provided services, albeit faulty ones, while working with Quill,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said Benge Contracting hired several subcontractors but failed to pay many of them, which resulted in multiple liens being asserted on the Quill Lounge property. Quill refused to pay, so Benge Contracting also asserted a lien on the property.

They reached a settlement in which Benge would take care of the subcontractors, but left out one, LoneStar Electric Supply, which Quill had to pay $ 9,970.15 in exchange for a lien.

The lawsuit also states that Quill found issues with the job done, including lighting, electrical wiring, and paintwork.

In July 2017, Lil Johns Fireplaces filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting for non-payment of various chimney and / or gutter services at Mellow Mushroom, the pizzeria on N. Henderson Ave. 2326, and for violating a subcontracting agreement with unpaid balance, an amount of $ 7,902.98

In January 2018, the Dallas Mechanical Group filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting for $ 12,872.18 in labor and materials related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. In the midst of this lawsuit, Benge General Contracting attempted to file for bankruptcy, which the court would initially not allow. (Benge filed for bankruptcy again in February 2020 and is now trading under the new name BengeTexas.)

In January 2018, Benge General Contracting filed a lawsuit against Benge’s own brother, Jay Benge, who had worked for Benge as a project manager for less than a year. In the lawsuit, Jay Benge was charged with “appropriating certain Benge assets and potentially disseminating information” that could be used to harm Benge. It accused Jay of showing up at the office and causing disruption, including nearly hitting an employee with a truck. In November 2020, all parties agreed to drop the case.

In February 2018, Branch Ironworks filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting for steel construction work on Mellow Mushroom for violating a subcontracting agreement with an unpaid balance of $ 7,902.98 for labor and materials. They settled in March 2019.

In April 2018, Creative Flooring Solutions filed a lawsuit against Benge General Contracting for tile flooring work at Mellow Mushroom for breach of contract due to an unpaid balance of USD 14,804.84.

Some of the lawsuits are convincing, such as the injunction against Cash Hebel from June 2019, a former employee who worked as a project manager for BengeTexas on the construction of Cigars International in The Colony, and worked for Cigars International immediately after he was fired .

Benge assumed that Hebel was simply incompetent and resigned from his employment at the end of the project. It is now apparent that Hebel was deliberately providing “free” extras to Cigars International as it had already agreed to use the confidential information it was given to cut out Benge from the nearest Cigars International construction site in Fort Worth and to act directly as site manager for Cigars International.

This lawsuit is particularly noteworthy given that Nusr-Et’s counterclaim against BengeTexas alleges that Benge was involved in similar activities, i.e. redirecting payments to a former Nusr-Et employee and project manager, rather than paying the subcontractors.

Benge boat

When Benge was contacted about the lawsuits he had piled up, he insisted on meeting in person and wanted the meeting to take place aboard a 56-foot sailboat he had built himself. It is his passion project as well as the subject of two profiles that document his search.

He had stored the boat in a warehouse on Buckner Road. Getting in was like a survivor challenge, climbing a precariously narrow staircase with no handrail before crossing a dizzying patch of dead air two stories high to climb the gun whale.

Everything on board has been made from the finest materials: intricate inlaid wood, highly polished stainless steel, hot and cold running water, and a gimbal bracket for the stove to keep it level if the boat hits a wave. It was hard not to think about the various subcontractors who had never been paid.

Focused on the case he lost to Hertz Electric, Benge had a three-ring binder of photos that he claimed were poorly processed. But it was impossible to tell where they came from. “You could take the boat away from me,” he said.

But he wiped the complaints away and said the lawn was fine.

“I’m a contractor, it happens, and we do a lot of mom and pop people who promise they’ll pay next month. Then you have to put in a lien even though I don’t like it,” he said.

Still, on Jan. 15, BengeTexas filed a pledge against Nusr-Et to request payment of $ 574,830.34. A hearing is scheduled for March 29th.

Meanwhile, Nusr-Et takes reservations; The opening weekend is already booked out.