GarfieldEATS Founder Nathen Mazri Says His New Web Series Is Inspired by Quibi

He also said he received death threats from angry Bugs Bunny fans online — but nothing will stop him from succeeding

BY Josiah HughesPublished Sep 2, 2020

Like or not, there's no denying that the surreal fast casual pizza spot GarfieldEATS has made Canada's food scene significantly more interesting since opening a restaurant in Toronto last year. Whether you're guzzling Garfuccinos or sampling the Garf-shaped pizzas — or simply just marvelling at this curious branding exercise from afar — you likely can't help but obsess over the company's ongoing existence.

Last month, eccentric founder Nathen Mazri teased something peculiar on the company's Twitter page. While we initially thought it might be a movie, he's since got on the phone to explain to Exclaim! that it's very much not a movie, but instead a Quibi-inspired short-form docuseries that he's developed with an "award-winning" production company.

The 30-minute discussion, which appears here in a pared-down form, includes plenty of Mazri's platitudes about entrepreneurship (or, as he prefers to call it, "hustlership") in Canada's fast food scene. He also opens up about some misconceptions about his restaurant, which is here to stay (it's the company's second location following an eatery in Dubai).

"That's what I want to tell everyone — it is not a pop-up shop. It is not a gimmick. I am serious about food. I came from a fast food industry," he says. "I'm serious about recipes and farm-to-plate ingredients, no GMO, repurpose-ful boxes. Have you seen pizza boxes becoming pizza plates? Before you start your pizza, you can start cutting out your pizza box. They're perforated and you can start eating out of them. Our lasagne boxes become tissue boxes now, whether they use them or not. I'm being responsible for my own. I do my part. And they can be used."

Below, read our interview with Nathen Mazri of GarfieldEATS. And stay tuned for the arrival of a new short-form docuseries, which is coming soon.

We've been following your Twitter and we saw that you posted what looked like a little bit of a teaser, and then what looked like a movie poster. And so we're trying to figure out what exactly are you teasing? What are you about to release with the GarfieldEATS media content?

Just to be clear, and I'm glad you're recording this. So you can show this as proof. This is not a movie and if it was a movie, you would have heard it from Viacom, CBS and Nickelodeon as my team has emailed to you accordingly. This is not a movie at all, and that the teaser was inspired by the Garfield fans. For years, they've been following my journey. they've always asked me, how on Earth did I even get the rights for this? And how did he get to me?

And so, you know, with time as they followed my journey, we did a prototype in Dubai. We succeeded, very inexpensive and my father had the infrastructure for the fast food, Canadian chain, Mr. Sub and Jugo Juice and Van Houtte cafe. So I built on top of this infrastructure to test GarfieldEATS and it was a success. We came to Canada and Jim Davis wanted to grow globally. We both have big visions together and we're in constant communication. And we launched the Jim Davis pizza. He loves pineapple and barbecue sauce. So we've launched that. And so the fans have been curious. And so there are a lot of young fans out there.

Young men, especially as they relate to me more, you know, they they're looking for motivation and inspiration. You know, we've got tons of motivation books out there, you know, they finish their degree and, and yet they feel they haven't fulfilled a sense of purpose. So they want success and wisdom and self-help. So I thought that launching something, a project that would show the behind-the-scenes of how it really happened, how to go about things and how to deal with employees with customers, customer service marketing, logistics, mobile app, licensing everything. The whole nine yards. And so, I've had that on my mind for a while. All of a sudden, I was approached by an award-winning production company in Canada. And a director said, 'Hey, I have this great idea that we do get into social media and your, you know, your being out there a little bit.' GarfieldEATS is great. It's always in the news. And recently, we had a landlord issue too, which was out. And, you know, he's obviously been following so he approached me via Instagram. And we went on a call it was in June, early June. And boom, we started shooting. And it was very quick… We're still doing that, and hopefully we'll be seeing something that is unique. I think it's going to be great. It's going to resonate with a lot of people.

Is it a film, or is it a TV show? What exactly are you shooting?

Well, it's not a film. You got to stay away from this "F" word, or Nickelodeon will kill me. But it's a video — you can call it reality show, you can call it a clip, or, you know, but it's it's going to be online at least for the first two episodes — episodes, whatever you want to call it, again. I'm very careful with jargon. But again, journalism's freedom of speech you could call it whatever you bought from me as a compliant licensee. I need to be careful with words. So it's videos that will be online across the entire social media ecosystem, and they will be about eight minutes or so or even a little bit more. They will be short form. And we learned a lot from Quibi — even before Quibi, for movies. I'm sure you're aware of Quibi. We think that short form is the future, and that's what this is.

So you are a fan of Quibi?

I do have Quibi but I've unsubscribed. I did not continue my subscription just because it's on mobile and my arm gets numb by holding the mobile. So as soon as they figure out on being on smart TV or Samsung or Sony or on Roku, which they should have done in the first place. Then obviously I'll be the first to sign up because I do love some of the content. It's short. It's fast. I love it. And I've been watching some of them. There is a one with J. Lo and there's another one with Chris Hemsworth. And I think it's an action or thriller movie, I forgot. Yeah, I mean, I love the concept. I love how the world we're getting into is shifting. It's exciting. It's a little bit uncertain, but it's exciting.

I want to ask you about the poster for the docuseries. Is the show called "Love Me, Feed Me, Don't Leave Me"? And is that saying from Garfield, or somewhere else?

Garfield used to say, "Love me, feed me, never leave me." I've asked Jim Davis to change it. If I'm going to do GarfieldEATS I wanted a slogan back in the days and I created a tagline: "Love me, feed me, don't leave me. So just in case he has it trademarked — "Love me, see me, and never leave me" — you know I'm not infringing on it. And in case I want to expand more on "Love me, feed me, don't leave me," I can do so. It's my own, and it's also GarfieldEATS's slogan. And I also didn't want the word "never" within a slogan. I didn't want any negative negative connotation. I wanted something more aspirational. Just Do It, you know, the Nike slogan. So it's also a branding exercise as well.

But yes, it is inspired from Garfield's quote "Love me, feed me, never leave me." Bill Murray said it in the 2004 Garfield movie and I felt that it was the right title for this project, because it's the human condition. Everybody wants to be loved and never left alone. And that's what it's all about, specially now in tough times. And it really shows how the show shows empathy, it shows obviously food or around foo, and how it brings people together different cultural races, including the LGBTQ+ community, etc. And, and no one wants to be left alone. And that's how we're very, very connected with with the employees and some of the fans. I Zoom with the fans. I Zoom with them. It's been maybe a second or third. And it's hundreds of participants that go on. And I do it for 45 minutes. I mean, I think I know the fans more than Nickelodeon does or more than anyone does. I know what they are and I know the demographic or attitudes or interest, and I really try to respond accordingly with the restaurant.

Do you have the license for a certain amount of time?

My agreement is until a certain date and undisclosed, but I still have a long time. And God knows what's going to happen. I don't know. What's going to hit. To have David's Tea closing down stores, and Pizza Hut filing for Chapter 11. Who knew? So, my job as a millennial, I believe in digital I had an app since day one, both here and GarfieldEATS in Dubai. I'm digital. So we have merchandise. Our food is picked up from the website, they come and pick up from the store, orders happen on the website or app. Now the app is being redeveloped [with a] new skin, new user experience, etc. But the website is fully operational. We get most of our orders there. Even when you walk into the store GarfieldEATS, there are three tablets on the wall on the right side, on the left side. And you order from the website, no cashiers is allowed. No subscriptions to POS systems… You go in and on the right side you play on the 45 Garfield apps, you play on the app on the right side while you wait for your delivery. So you're playing on all the license fees of Jim Davis since 2007, when the whole app economy came out. Every Garfield game, I've downloaded them to support them — in terms of downloading them, at least. So every customer that comes in, they play their games. And I support a lot of other Garfield licensees. Penguin Random House — I bought all the Garfield books. 20th Century Fox — I was gifted all the Garfield merch from the 2004 movie. Ravette Publishing in London — I bought all of the Garfield classics from 1987.

I'm supportive of other licensees because Garfield has been away for a while. So here comes someone, this young Canadian. Not even American, and Garfield is American. I've been told that on social media — "Oh, an American should own GarfieldEATS not a Canadian." You can see the amount of racism. It's there. Whether it is Black lives or white lives, it's there. People want to say what they want to say. That's fine. I've been hurt for two years. I've had death threats… It could be from three teenagers somewhere in Texas where they would send me mail at the store and social media messages on Instagram. I had to have social media tool that would look for words like death, threats, etc. to try to listen and try to plan ahead to see what these accounts are and block them. Because they would say things like, "You have opened GarfieldEATS and not Bugs Bunny Eats. And you are a disgrace to the Garfield brand. You should have opened Bugs Bunny, it's been longer. Now you're reviving a cartoon and Bugs Bunny deserves it more. We will threaten your store, we will threaten your life, etc, etc." Can you believe it?

And someone else also from Bugs Bunny on Google Review — that's why I wrote an article called "Google Reviews destroy young entrepreneurship." Check it out on Google. Just Google the article, "Google reviews destroy young entrepreneurship." You've worked so hard from nine to 11. You work so hard day and night with your staff in baking and do it. And then the lasagne is packaged and serving customers, [you're] taking care of the restaurant, and all of sudden you get a Google review: one star, which appears first on Google when you review GarfieldEATS. That's the first thing you see — you see reviews and whether you want to or not, that that really says a lot about, you know, sales and about longevity and continuity.

So that's why I say Google reviews destroys entrepreneurship. You get one guy putting a one star in saying, "I hate you open Bugs Bunny Eats." You're not even a customer. It's not even relevant. I mean, Google should have had some form of artificial intelligence right to detect if a customer is relevant or not. Or else don't put reviews or else, even if I flag it, remove it…  I had to get an SEO agency, paid top dollars, to get that one review removed. Imagine how much it cost me. How much headache it cost me. So it hasn't been all great, beautiful.

Garfield fans are 200 million fans worldwide. 14 to 15 million on Facebook. I have a huge responsibility to open a GarfieldEATS restaurant, where some may not resonate with it. Or some may not like it because they said I opened GarfieldEATS in Toronto, not America. Therefore, I'm unfit because Garfield is American? It doesn't matter. I came up with the idea. You should have come up with the idea a long time ago. Respect it. Honour it. Let's work together to open it in the States.

Unfortunately I've never been able to eat GarfieldEATS because I live in Montreal, but I'd love to try it one day. That said, the reviews of the restaurant have been mixed to say the least. What do you think about the people who have tried the food and not loved it? Do you think GarfieldEATS is at the level of quality it should be?

First of all, I always admitted — and I went on social media to even control the media. The media was excited before I even opened a week. They wanted to publish GarfieldEATS's opening. It's a cartoon 40 years old now. Yes, on restaurants. Holy shit, what's going on? All of a sudden after one week when they test the lasagne. Don't forget, it was the first recipe ever to launch. Take McDonald's in the 1950s, when they launched their first recipe, obviously, there will be glitches. Obviously there'll be problems. Obviously, when you have a lot of people in media that can barely enter the restaurant because it's 1,600 square feet or 1,500 square feet if they were overwhelmed. And moreover, can we get the recipe exactly right? As per the guidelines, obviously not, and I admitted it, and I went and it took us a month and a half to really streamline the measurements.... But it's been dealt with and it's been one year now almost and for 10 months I've worked with a fascinating team. And I love them greatly. I really do.

However, I think the Reddit users, no matter good, bad or ugly, we've had so many customers from Reddit coming in saying I'm from Reddit. I'm from Reddit as Nathen here. And I'm on the ground. I mean, I know what's going on, it's not like where you see me behind the desk with a tie, you know, with an ego, with my certificates and degrees in the back. I'm not that. That's not me. I always say on LinkedIn, and even in my speaking panels and exhibitions or events before COVID — CEOs must go on the ground and interact with customers, and so I've learned a lot from Reddit users and the Garfield fans are the collectors.

There's some people that hate McDonald's. Some people love it. Obviously McDonald's has been there for years it's sold happiness and joy and no matter how much sodium there is or how bad it is. Our ingredients — here's what I'll tell you about our food. Our food is gourmet sold fast. Lasagne has five layers of cheese with ricotta. Usually, lasagne has a long layer with ricotta. Ricotta is expensive. Four layers of Garfield secret sauce with truffle oil. There's four layers of beef bolognese. All of our ingredients are farm-to-plate. Farm-to-plate means I support farmers locally and also internationally if they meet our SOP [standard operating procedures] and no GMOs. No preservatives. No emulsifiers.

Some people have reviewed it, and I've tested it and already done a survey. You eat and you don't bloat. People say, 'Oh my god, I can use so much of it and I won't bloat, because it's so healthy and fresh.' I don't have artificial colours.

How often do you eat GarfieldEATS and what's your go-to order?

Listen, you can eat pizza anywhere, but I love our pizza because of the Garfield secret sauce. I love the spaghetti bolognese and the lasagne. Those are my top favourites. And obviously I love my dark chocolate Garfuccino, because it's foamy and it's full of chocolate with Lindt 58 per cent dark chocolate. It's healthy. And the smoothie. I love the strawberry banana. Or the Monday kale. And Mondays we're closed. We're the only restaurant, maybe in the world, that closes on Mondays because the fans want to see. I listen. Garfield is now closed on Mondays because he hates Mondays.

The final thing I want to ask you — have you seen the Garfield sketch on the episode of the Netflix comedy I Think You Should Leave?

I Think You Should Leave. Someone told me, 'Nathen, you got to watch.' Listen, I'm on Netflix right now. And I'm going to search "I Think You Should Leave." Someone told me. I found with… Tim Robinson? I'll watch that and I'll let you know.



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