Star Sommelier Is Charged With Setting Outdoor Dining Sheds on Fire
A slender man with long hair walks through a dark, empty Manhattan street in the middle of the night. He has a lighter in his right hand as he approaches a wooden dining shed of the type that has sprung up in New York City since the start of the pandemic.
Glancing around quickly, he lights the lighter under a towel dispenser attached to one end of the structure, igniting a small flame. He then walks to the other end of the shed and does the same with the towel bar before wandering around the block.
The seemingly casual act of lighting the fire, filmed by a security camera, is quite surprising. Even more surprising is the person accused of doing it: a famous sommelier with a stake in a popular Lower Manhattan wine bar.
Firefighters announced on Wednesday that sommelier Caleb Ganzer had been arrested and charged with two counts of arson and several other crimes related to three fires, including two in alfresco dining sheds in Manhattan. .
Mr Ganzer started the fire seen in the video, at a structure owned by Prince Street Pizza, just before 3 a.m. on July 13, officials said. In January, officials said, he set fire to a dining shed outside the Forsythia restaurant on Stanton Street shortly before midnight. He is also accused of starting a garbage can fire at the corner of Broome and Center streets in June.
Both hangars, especially the one in Forsythia, were damaged by the fires, but no one was injured, officials said. Yet Daniel Nigro, the Fire Marshal, noted in a statement that “every act of arson has the potential to spread rapidly, endangering the lives of New Yorkers.”
Firefighters did not indicate what motive Mr Ganzer, 35, might have had for starting the fires. It was not clear if he had a lawyer. He did not answer the phone and text messages and did not answer the door to his home. His social media accounts became inactive shortly after the charges were announced.
In a statement, the wine bar of which he is the managing partner, La Compagnie des Vins Supernaturels on rue du Center, said: “As a company, we are aware of the incident and Mr. Ganzer is in leave.” The bar declined to comment further.
Forsythia owner Jacob Siwak said in an interview on Wednesday that a well-dressed man wearing a beanie and scarf attempted to light up the restaurant’s exterior structure on four occasions over at least nine days in January.
Security camera footage showed the man unpacking his backpack, placing a pile of kindling next to garbage from the night before, and then setting it on fire several times, Mr Siwak said. The man waited for a major fire to break out before walking away.
Before reviewing the security footage, Mr Siwak said he “expected it to be a guy throwing a cigarette butt in the trash or a homeless person trying to warm up.” Instead, he discovered a well-dressed man who intended to set his business on fire.
Several attempts by the man to burn down the hangar were successful, and two were “quite damaging,” Siwak said. Another caused flames of at least two floors and threatened to spread to the restaurant and from there to the rest of the building.
The restaurant spent around $ 3,500 to repair the shed, which had to be rebuilt after both ends burned down completely, Siwak said, adding that the structure was now fire retardant.
The damage was less severe at Prince Street Pizza, said Tony Sosa, the manager, but added that “it could have been very dangerous”, especially if the fire had spread to the restaurant and the apartments above.
Originally from Illinois, Mr. Ganzer moved to New York a dozen years ago, according to a 2017 article in the Daily Journal of Kankakee, Ill., Which noted that Food & Wine magazine had come from it. name one of its sommeliers for the year.
“New York is one of those places where the longer you stay here, the more you carve out your own niche and the more you want to expand it,” he told the newspaper. “New York has become my home. “
In a recent interview with Sommelier Business, Mr. Ganzer talked about investing in the outdoor dining space of his wine bar after what he called the ‘roller coaster’ of the past nine months, a period that ‘he described as “a kind of existential paralysis”.
“There were so many different waves of emotion,” he said in the interview. “At the very beginning there was denial, bordering on feeling personally attacked, because no other industry has been hit so hard.”
Earlier in his career, Mr. Ganzer was the sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, which the New York Times described in May as “Manhattan’s restaurant that has been called the best in the world.”
According to a brief biography published on the greatsommeliers.com site, he was “still a wine lover” who moved to Paris during his last year of college, “where he worked in a champagne store and developed his love of wine. wine in a full – full-fledged passion.
The bio lists several restaurants owned by chef Daniel Boulud, including Daniel and DBGB, as well as other places where he was the sommelier.
In a video posted to the website, Mr. Ganzer, then a sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, demonstrates a port serving technique that involves heating a pair of pliers with a Bunsen burner so that they can be used to cut the bottle cap. to bypass the cork and be satisfied with the wine.
“This is the most dramatic aspect,” he says at one point in the video. “It’s fire.”
Christina Morales and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.
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