The New York City Fire Marshals arrested Caleb Ganzer for allegedly lighting fire to outdoor dining structures and rubbish in or near three restaurants in Manhattan this year, the New York City Fire Department announced Wednesday.
The case against Ganzer has raised many unanswered questions about the 35-year-old from Illinois, a celebrated sommelier who served wine at one of the best restaurants in New York before becoming a partner and wine director at a popular Lower Manhattan wine bar.
“Every act of arson has the potential to spread rapidly, endangering the lives of New Yorkers and FDNY members,” New York Fire Department Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a news release Wednesday. “Thankfully in these incidents there were no injuries, and the suspect has been apprehended before another fire could be set.”
Ganzer has been charged with two accounts of arson in the third degree, criminal mischief in the third degree and reckless endangerment in the second degree, according to the New York City Fire Department. Arson in the third degree can carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, according to New York penal law.
Officials have not released any further details or a possible motive.
He is accused of setting fire to an outdoor dining structure owned by Prince Street Pizza on July 13; setting rubbish on fire at the corner of Broome and Centre streets June 26 near several popular bars and restaurants; and starting a third fire in the outdoor dining structure of Forsythia Restaurant on Jan. 8, fire officials said.
The fire department released a video of a man authorities identified as Ganzer walking up to Prince Street Pizza on July 13 and lighting the shed on fire.
Forsythia’s owner, Jacob Siwak, called the arrest “disappointing and frustrating.”
“I opened Forsythia to create a fundamentally different restaurant — one predicated upon kindness, compassion and empathy, both for each other and for our guests,” Siwak told CNN.
Fire officials said that Ganzer was apprehended for the July 13 fire on Prince Street and that authorities then “established the connection” to the earlier incidents in Lower Manhattan, which they said “fit the same pattern.”
By Thursday, it was not clear whether Ganzer had hired a lawyer.
He did not respond to phone and text messages from The Washington Post.
Sarah Stafford, head of events and communications at the wine bar La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, where Ganzer is wine director and managing partner, said that the company “is aware of the situation” and that Ganzer is “on a leave of absence.” She declined to make any further comments.
VinePair, a website specialized on the drinks industry, called La Compagnie “the hottest industry hang” and attributed the bar’s success mostly to the young sommelier’s talents and vision.
“La Compagnie resonates with wine professionals and notoriously fickle New Yorkers because Ganzer embodies the modern sommelier: a person who is passionate about wine but not stuffy about service,” the 2017 review said.
According to the Daily Journal of Kankakee, Ill., Ganzer studied at the University of Illinois and in Paris before moving to New York more than a decade ago.
“New York is one of those places where the longer you’re here, the more you carve out your own niche, and the more you want to make that niche bigger,” Ganzer told the Daily Journal in 2017. “New York’s become home.”
At age 35, Ganzer has already collected a string of recognitions and awards in the field. In 2017, Food & Wine Magazine named him one of its sommeliers of the year.
In a brief description, the magazine said, “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 2012, Zagat included him on its “30 Under 30” list of rising celebrities in the New York City restaurant scene. Wine & Spirits magazine named him one of the best new sommeliers in 2016.
In an interview with SommelierBusiness.com, Ganzer talked about the economic impact of the pandemic on the food and wine industry.
“It’s been a roller coaster, for sure. There were so many different waves of emotion; in the very beginning, there was denial, bordering on feeling personally attacked, because no other industry was hit as hard,” he said.
“It all just felt like very sudden, not deliberate, but you just can’t help feel a little extra sting knowing that you can’t do what you do remotely from home or whatever, so it’s just sort of existentially crippling.”