A celebrity sommelier was charged with two felony counts of arson after he was caught setting three fires around New York City beginning in January – including two in outdoor dining areas.
Caleb Ganzer, 35, was caught on security camera footage setting fire to the outdoor dining shed at Prince Street Pizza on July 13 around 3 am.
The alleged arsonist is a noted wine expert, named one of Food & Wine‘s 2017 Sommeliers of the Year. He previously worked as the sommelier at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, which some critics have called one of the world’s best restaurants.
He’s not accused of setting fire to any structures connected to La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, the restaurant where he’s managing partner.
Authorities haven’t released a possible motive for the arsons.
In one video, a man, later identified to be Ganzer, walks up to a wooden structure on the empty street.
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Caleb Ganzer, 35, has been charged with two counts of Arson in the third degree, two counts of Criminal Mischief in the third degree, and three counts of Reckless Endangerment in the second degree
The fires were all located in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood within a few blocks of each other and Ganzer’s restaurant
The popular NYC sommelier was caught on surveillance camera setting fire to an outdoor dining area
Footage recorded as Ganzer casually walks up to the outdoor structure and lights the two napkin dispensers at each end
He then casually walks away as the structure continues to burn
After checking that he’s alone, he nonchalantly pulls out a lighter and sets fire to a napkin dispenser. He then walks over and sets fire to the other napkin dispenser at the opposite end of the shed.
The arsonist then casually continues walking down the street.
Officials have also connected Ganzer to two other fires set earlier this year. On June 26, he allegedly started a trash fire at the corner of Broome and Centre Streets.
The first fire was set back on January 8, when Ganzer set fire to the outdoor dining shed Forsythia restaurant on Stanton Street shortly before midnight.
Fire officials announced on Wednesday that the sommelier Ganzer had been arrested and charged with two counts of Arson in the third degree, two counts of Criminal Mischief in the third degree, and three counts of Reckless Endangerment in the second degree.
Forsythia’s owner, Jacob Siwak, says the fires caused $3,500 in damages
Ganzer is also being accused of setting fire to a trash bin at the intersection of Broome and Centre Streets
Most recently, Ganzer allegedly set fire to the outdoor structure at Prince Street Pizza were he was recorded on surveillance cameras
Forsythia’s owner, Jacob Siwak, told the New York Times on Wednesday that a well-dressed man wearing a beanie and a scarf attempted to set fire to the Italian restaurant’s outdoor structure ablaze four times over the course of at least nine days in January.
Security-camera footage recorded as the man unpacked his backpack, placing a pile of kindling next to trash that had been out from the night before and then repeatedly set the kindling on fire. The man then waited for a sizable fire before walking off.
Several of the man’s attempts were successful with two becoming ‘pretty damaging.’ Another resulted in flames that shot up two stories high and threatened to spread to the restaurant and the rest of the building.
The fires caused Siwak $3,500 in damages as he had to rebuild the outdoor dining structure, which is now fire retardant.
Ganzer set fire to the outdoor dining area of Prince Street Pizza on July 13
He is also being connected to fires set at another nearby restaurant, Forsythia in Januray, and a trash fire in June
Prince Street Pizza manager Tony Sosa told the New York Times that while the damage was not as severe as the destruction to Forsythia ‘it could have been very dangerous.’
While no one was hurt by these fires, ‘Every act of arson has the potential to spread rapidly, endangering the lives of New Yorkers and FDNY members,’ said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro commenting on Ganzer’s crimes.
‘Thankfully in these incidents there were no injuries and the suspect has been apprehended before another fire could be set.’
Men account for an estimated of 80% of arson cases, according to the FBI. Fire officials did not state what motive Ganzer might have had for starting the fires.
The case will be prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Ganzer is a managing partner at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, located several blocks from the fires
Ganzer is a managing partner at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels on Centre Street, which is located near where the fires were set.
He didn’t set fires there, officials have said.
La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels released a statement saying, ‘We as the company are aware of the incident, and Mr. Ganzer is on a leave of absence.’
The alleged arsonist was named as one of Food & Wine‘s 2017 Sommeliers of the Year and previously worked as the sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, which was been deemed one of the best restaurants in the world.
They credited the Illinois native for creating ‘a space where guests who aren’t ‘wine people’ can drink stellar wines casually, by the glass. His background in fine dining comes through in his attentive service (rare in wine bars), while his more playful side comes out in regular wine-themed parties and Compagnie’s ‘guess-the-wine, win-a-bottle’ game.’
In a recent interview with Sommelier Business, Mr. Ganzer spoke of investing in La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels’ outdoor dining space after what he called the ‘roller coaster’ of the pandemic, a period he described as ‘sort of existentially crippling.’