A celebrity sommelier accused of a Lower Manhattan arson spree took a jaunt just days after his last alleged blaze to the Finger Lakes –where he was a star of the International Riesling Expo.
Caleb Ganzer “was charming and gracious, the same guy I‘ve known for six years,” recalled pal and fellow restaurateur Dominick Purnomo, of the time they spent at the chic Cayuga Lake wine festival in July.
Only four days earlier, authorities say, Ganzer had set fire to the outdoor dining shed at Prince Street Pizza. It was his third arson attack in recent months, according to charges filed last week in Manhattan Criminal Court.
“Never in a million years would I think he would do something like this,” said Purnomo, who co-owns two Albany restaurants. “Quite frankly if I hadn’t seen the video I wouldn’t have believed the story.”
Ganzer, 35, was caught on surveillance footage setting the Prince Street fire just before 3 a.m. on July 13, according to authorities. The FDNY has accused Ganzer of setting at least two other, similar fires downtown between January and July.
He was charged with arson, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Ganzer claimed he couldn’t recall his fiery night at the pizzeria, prosecutors said at his Manhattan Criminal Court arraignment.
“I don’t really remember lighting anything on fire on Prince Street,” Ganzer told Fire Marshal Stephen Laureno July 26, assistant district attorney Allyson Rivard said during the Aug. 13 proceeding before Judge Eric Schumacher.
But he copped to being the person in the footage, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said.
Ganzer, sporting a new, short haircut, blue button down shirt and dark slacks, did not enter a plea. He and his lawyer declined to comment.
As he left court, Ganzer donned a ball cap from the July wine festival.
The managing partner behind swanky Soho wine bar, Compagnie des Vins Naturals, Ganzer was named “Sommelier of the Year” by Food & Wine Magazine in 2017.
Ganzer, who the restaurant said is now on a leave of absence, apparently struggled to keep his business afloat during the pandemic. At one point, Compagnie launched a GoFundMe to pay employees.
The sommelier offered to reimburse Prince Street Pizza for more than $1,000 damage from the fire, general manager Tony Sosa said.
“You try to make your place look beautiful and this guy made it look like sh-t,” said Sosa, adding, “I feel sorry for him. I hope he gets the help he needs.”