Sommelier charged for NYC arson attacks, including rival restaurants

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Sommelier charged for NYC arson attacks, including rival restaurants

A one-time “sommelier of the year” was apparently far too obsessed with fiery reds — getting charged this week in connection to a trio of Manhattan arson attacks, authorities said.

Caleb Ganzer — the 35-year-old managing partner of La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels on Centre Street — was first busted after he was caught starting a fire to Prince Street Pizza’s outdoor dining shed in Nolita in the early hours of July 13, FDNY Fire Marshals said.

Surveillance footage shows a shorts-wearing man casually using a lighter to start a small blaze in one corner, doing the same to the other end of the outdoor area as he strolls off.

Photographs showed the structure was badly charred by the blaze.

After a “thorough investigation” and arrest of Ganzer — who has worked at some of Manhattan’s most exclusive restaurants — investigators tied him to two other lower Manhattan attacks that “fit the same pattern,” the marshalls said.

The first was from late on Jan. 8 to another outdoor dining structure, this time to Forsythia Restaurant on Stanton Street in the Lower East Side, close to where Ganzer appears to live.

Gazer's mugshot.
Caleb Ganzer lit up a rival restauraunt.
FDNY

Owner Jacob Siwak told The New York Times that someone had tried to light a fire at least four times over nine days that month — saying it cost $3,500 to repair the shed after both ends burned down completely.

One sparked flames at least two stories high that threatened to spread to the restaurant and even the rest of the building, he said.

Siwak told the paper he “was expecting it to be a guy that flicked a cigarette butt in the trash or a homeless man trying to keep warm.”

Instead, his security cameras showed a nattily dressed man who had even unpacked kindling from his backpack to start fires.

Investigators also tied Ganzer to a trash fire on the corner of Broome and Centre Streets, close to his own establishment.

 Ganzer — who was “Food & Wine” magazine’s “sommelier of the year” in 2017 — was hit with a slew of charges.

They included two counts of third-degree arson, two counts of third-degree criminal mischief and three counts of second-degree reckless endangerment, the FDNY said. The case will be prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Caleb Ganzer former 2017 Food & Wine magazine sommelier of the year and a partner at wine bar La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels on Centre Street, was arrested and charged with allegedly setting these fires.
Caleb Ganzer’s arson work left three restaurants charred.
FDNY
Prince Street Pizza's outdoor eating venue was lit aflame.
Prince Street Pizza’s outdoor eating venue was lit aflame.
FDNY

“Every act of arson has the potential to spread rapidly, endangering the lives of New Yorkers and FDNY members,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “Thankfully in these incidents there were no injuries and the suspect has been apprehended before another fire could be set.”

Ganzer was not immediately available for comment, and his social media appeared to have been switched to private settings since his arrest.

“We as the company are aware of the incident, and Mr. Ganzer is on a leave of absence,” La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels told the Times, refusing to comment further.

Originally from Illinois, Ganzer lived for a time in Paris before settling in New York about a dozen years ago, according to a 2017 article in The Daily Journal to mark his “Food and Wine” honor.

“New York’s become home,” he told the paper at the time.

However, in a recent interview with Sommelier Business, he complained about the “sort of existentially crippling” pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bio on Great Sommeliers noted that he has worked at several restaurants owned by the chef Daniel Boulud, including Daniel and DBGB.

The site also features a video of him using a blow torch to prepare port wine while he was the sommelier at Eleven Madison Park .

With a big smile, he says, “This is the most dramatic aspect of it — it’s the fire.”

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