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Celebrity Sommelier Has Been Moonlighting as an Arsonist: FDNY

·4 min read
Fire Department of New York
Fire Department of New York

A New York City celebrity sommelier has been arrested after allegedly setting several outdoor dining structures ablaze on at least three occasions this year.

Caleb Ganzer, 35, has been charged with a slew of crimes, including third-degree arson, third-degree criminal mischief, and second-degree reckless endangerment for setting fires all within a 10-block radius of lower Manhattan in January, June, and July, the New York City Fire Department told The Daily Beast. All the fires—which did not result in any injuries—were also all set within a few blocks of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a SoHo Parisian hotspot where Ganzer is currently the wine and managing director.

“We as the company are aware of the incident, and Mr. Ganzer is on a leave of absence,” Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “If there are any other follow-up questions at this point, we have no further comment.”

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Ganzer’s sister declined to comment on the arrest, telling The Daily Beast she “had no idea” about the allegations before hanging up. Other members of Ganzer’s family, colleagues, and the sommelier himself did not immediately respond for comment.

According to Starchefs.com, the 2017 Food & Wine Sommelier of the Year recipient got his start in hospitality working in a restaurant while studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While studying abroad in Paris his senior year, Ganzer told the outlet he began learning about wine—which spurred a passion that prompted him to move to New York City after graduation.

Ganzer has worked as a sommelier at several major New York City hotspots, including Eleven Madison Park and Boulud. In 2016, however, Ganzer told the outlet he jumped at the chance to take over the New York outpost of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. That same year, he was awarded the “Best New Sommelier of 2016” award from Wine & Spirit Magazine.

Two years later, Ganzer even launched VKNOW, an app to help the public learn about wine. During the pandemic, Ganzer also became the chief marketing officer of Berkshires Direct Shop, a local vegetable delivery service.

Last January, Ganzer made local headlines after registering with the Federal Election Commission to be a write-in candidate in the race for President of the United States. “It’s actually surprisingly easy, you just have to fill something out online,” Ganzer told WCBS 880. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since I was in third grade.”

But authorities allege that since New York City has re-opened, Ganzer has been doing much more than trying to help the people of New York—and his wine bar.

Authorities say Ganzer was originally arrested for a July 13 fire, which was set at around 2:55 a.m. in the outdoor dining structure owned by Prince Street Pizza in lower Manhattan.

Surveillance footage of the incident obtained by The Daily Beast shows a man wearing shorts, a long jacket, and a backpack walking up to the wooden pavilion of the beloved pizza establishment and setting it on fire with what appears to be a small lighter. He then walks to the other side of the structure and lights it on fire again before simply walking away, according to the video.

Photographs of the structure after the fire show the wood heavily charred, and its plexiglass on the back wall bent from the flame.

After a thorough investigation, FDNY said marshals established the fire set at Prince Street Pizza revealed the same pattern as the two blazes they put out earlier this year. Those incidents include a Jan. 8 fire that was set in the outside dining structure owned by Forsythia Restaurant, and a trash fire set on June 26 near SoHo.

Ganzer’s case will be prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which declined to comment on the case until he is arraigned in criminal court.

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

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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