A sommelier charged with arson last year has reached an agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office requiring him to pay thousands of dollars to two downtown restaurants whose outdoor eatery he set on fire.
The sommelier, Caleb Ganzer, who was a managing partner at a popular wine bar in lower Manhattan, will pay $3,050 to Forsythia restaurant, $2,250 to Prince Street Pizza, and undergo treatment determined by the Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit organization. organization cooperating with the state court system.
Under the terms of the agreement reached last month, Mr Ganzer, 36, will be subjected to regular drug testing, including undergoing recommended vocational and educational training and finding a full-time job. If he meets the conditions to the satisfaction of the prosecutors after at least 15 months, the charges against him will be dismissed.
Ganzer’s attorney Thomas Rotko said in a statement that Mr Ganzer understood the gravity of his actions and “deeply regretted the pain and suffering he caused these individuals and their companies.”
“He takes personal responsibility and is fully committed to his continued sobriety and recovery of his mental health,” said Mr. rotko. The statement did not explain Mr Ganzer’s motive for lighting the fires.
Representatives from the two restaurants could not be reached for comment.
Mr Ganzer, 2017 Food & Wine magazine’s sommelier of the year, was arrested last summer after being caught on video using a lighter to set fire to a food shed outside Prince Street Pizza. The restaurant is about eight minutes’ walk from La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, the wine bar where Mr Ganzer worked, which the website Thrillist described in 2014 as “a sexy Euro vibe”.
Officials said Mr Ganzer set fire to the barn of Forsythia, another restaurant nearby, in January 2021. He was charged with several felonies, including arson, by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office — crimes that can carry a substantial jail sentence if a suspect is found guilty.
The District Attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has attempted to create diversion programs — which aim to direct defendants into support services and away from prison — a cornerstone of his office’s approach to criminal justice. Mr Bragg has said that such programs can reduce recidivism and help defendants in difficulty.
Mr. Ganzer will benefit from that approach. Originally from Illinois, he has been a New Yorker for over ten years and has climbed the heights of the restaurant industry to work as a sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world.
La Compagnie opened in 2014 and Mr Ganzer soon departed Eleven Madison Park to join the team there. Three years later, VinePair, a website covering developments in the wine industry, called the bar “without a doubt the hottest industry hangout,” a status it bestowed on Mr. Ganzer.
But the bar and industry in general were hit hard by the coronavirus. Mr Ganzer reflected on that difficulty in an interview with Sommelier Business, another trading website, and said the nine months of the pandemic had been “certainly a rollercoaster”.
“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 so hard,” he said, adding that the threat to his livelihood had been “just kind of existentially crippling.”