Celebrity Sommelier charged with arson by setting nearby restaurants’ outdoor dining structures on fire

Celebrity Sommelier charged with arson by setting nearby restaurants’ outdoor dining structures on fire

A celebrated New York City sommelier has been charged and arrested on two felony accounts of arson for allegedly setting outdoor dining sheds ablaze.

Ganzer, who was once named a Food & Wine Magazine “sommelier of the year,” is a partner at the popular La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels wine bar on the Lower East Side, making his misdeeds all the more unsettling: Surveillance footage captured the Ganzer lighting at least two other Downtown restaurants’ sidewalk dining structures on fire this past year. It’s unclear what Ganzer’s motives were for starting the fires, though some outlets report that Ganzer targeted “rival restaurants.”

In January, Ganzer sparked a fire outside Forsythia restaurant on Stanton Street, doing the same at Prince Street Pizza on July 13. Ganzer was also charged with inciting a trash fire on Broome and Centre Street in June. All are within a few blocks from La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, which has since issued a statement: “We as the company are aware of the incident, and Mr. Ganzer is on a leave of absence.” They had no further comment.

Both Forsythia’s and Prince Street Pizza’s dining structures were damaged — Forsythia’s much more so — but no diners were hurt. Still Daniel Nigro, the fire commissioner, made sure to reiterate that “every act of arson has the potential to spread rapidly, endangering the lives of New Yorkers.”

Outdoor dining structures have popped up all over New York City amid the pandemic, allowing diners to continue to eat out but in the open air. Thus, the wooden sheds have been a saving grace for establishments, especially those in Manhattan where restaurants have so little space with which to work as is.

When selected as a sommelier of the year, Ganzer told Food & Wine Magazine that, “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. New York’s become home.”

In a more recent interview, Ganzer discussed the “roller coaster” that is trying to run a restaurant amid Covid-19. “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, also calling the experience “sort of existentially crippling.”

He also specifically noted that he would be investing in an outdoor dining space for the bar, noting that’s where his “optimism lies.”

“Post-winter, people are going to be wanting to get out a little bit more. We’re definitely going to invest in some more outdoor dining space, and open it earlier when we have more sunshine, and probably closing a little bit earlier,” he told Sommelier Business. “The weather’s going to help people just want to move around a little bit more.”

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