Nathen Mazri prefers to step out in his signature suit. It’s perfectly tailored, with crisp lapels, a snappy vest and a spotless corresponding pocket square. It’s the kind of uniform you’d see in a boardroom or a high-end cigar club — except it’s bright orange. Garfield Orange, to be specific. With feline whiskers tastefully sewn into the cuffs, the slick getup brings a new connotation to the term “catsuit.”
These days, 34-year-old Mazri doesn’t have many chances to wear the suit. He commissioned it in 2018 to celebrate the launch of GarfieldEATS, his now meme-ified lasagna restaurant concept. The restaurant shuttered in 2020, and ViacomCBS (now known as Paramount) yanked Mazri’s Garfield licensing rights in late 2021. Now, without his orange suit, Mazri is frustratingly hard to classify.
At first glance, he’s all business jargon and big ideas — but upon further inspection, he doesn’t quite fit the fast-talking, swaggering entrepreneur prototype. He’s eccentric, but certainly no more so than any other mega-capitalist. He doesn’t have a hint of Mark Zuckerberg’s oblivious arrogance or Jeff Bezos’ cool, flippant villainy. Instead, Mazri has the air of a preoccupied person hiding their anxiety behind a pearly white smile. He’s wound tight, every inch of him pulled taut as he tries to hide the fact that he cares very deeply about what you think. His is a personality that attracts rabid fans and vitriolic trolls all at once. More than anything, Mazri represents the perils of merging capitalism and identity in the social media age.
Born in Montreal, Mazri was shuttled between Canada, Saudi Arabia and Dubai as his investment banker father explored a number of business ventures, including several international fast-food franchises. From a young age, Mazri idolized celebrity entrepreneurs and schemed about ways to make his mark on the business world. At 27, he took a step toward achieving that dream: He became the world’s youngest Garfield licensee, a point of pride that’s now central to Mazri’s personal brand. (Actually, to classify it as a “point of pride” is a bit of an understatement. Mazri cites his “World’s Youngest Garfield Licensee” status on a near-constant basis.)
Why Garfield? To hear Mazri tell it, he’s bound to the cat by fate. “Garfield found me,” he says. “I didn’t find Garfield.” He explains that his mother used Garfield comic books to reward his academic performance as a youngster. “She’d hold them behind her as I came back from school,” he says. “She’d ask me if I got any of the A grades — A-minus, A or A-plus — and she’d surprise me with a Garfield comic book.” He also grew up a fan of the Garfield and Friends TV show, singing along to the opening credits with his friends and siblings.
Maybe that’s why Mazri has always been intent on leveraging the Garfield property in a way that feels more personal than pragmatic. Initially, his licensing agreement was managed by Paws, Inc., the company founded by Garfield creator Jim Davis. “[Paws] told me I was an anomaly in the licensing industry,” Mazri says. “Overly passionate, overzealous, eccentric.” He took that as a good thing — a sign that his mark on the business world would be anything but ordinary. He was right: In 2018, Mazri founded GarfieldEATS, his vividly orange, lasagna-driven dining operation.
GarfieldEATS was certainly anything but ordinary. Mazri worked with investor Pascal Haider to fund the first location, which opened in Dubai in 2018. (Haider didn’t respond to requests for comment.) Shortly after, Mazri and Haider expanded GarfieldEATS to Canada, opening a location in Toronto’s Bloorcourt Village. GarfieldEATS was a trailblazer in several respects. It was a ghost kitchen before ghost kitchens were a thing, taking the shape of what Mazri calls a “QMR,” or “quick mobile restaurant” — in other words, a strictly carryout restaurant that required customers to order via mobile.
More than that, GarfieldEATS capitalized on the nostalgia of multiple generations touched by Garfield’s cranky cartoon hedonism. It was also, according to Mazri, North America’s first fast-food lasagna concept — a foolproof moneymaker, in his eyes. “There are tacos at Taco Bell, burgers at McDonald’s and Burger King, pizza at Pizza Hut,” Mazri proclaims. “But no lasagna. [At the time,] I’m like, ‘What a brilliant idea.’” (It wasn’t all lasagna — GarfieldEATS also dealt in cat-shaped pizza, which Toronto Star food critic Karon Liu called “cardboardy.”)
Of course, lasagna as a fast-food concept presents several logistical concerns. For one, you can’t eat it on the go. It’s far from a finger food; any attempts to prove otherwise would prove disastrously saucy. Regardless, Mazri was confident in his idea. “I had the best people on board in terms of developers,” he says. “I also met with quite a few chefs to come up with the recipe for the lasagna sauce. There were no preservatives or artificial colors, and all of our food was 100 percent clean — no chemicals like McDonald’s.”
For a while, things were good. “I had fans flying in from New York, Portugal, Mississippi, just to come and see me,” Mazri says, recalling a time that a Garfield fan with autism popped in to introduce himself. “I gave him Garfield merch and comic books, and I knew that day that I left a mark in this world,” he says. “It could have been bigger, but I knew I left a mark. I knew that I did right by the Garfield I.P.”
Mazri insists that GarfieldEATS had more than 127 franchise inquiries during its peak, at which point he was convinced he’d become “the next Ronald McDonald.” Even Jim Davis himself seemed enthusiastic about — or, at least, relatively unopposed to — the concept when he appeared in a GarfieldEATS promotional clip. “The world was waiting for me to do it,” Mazri says. “I’m a risk-taker. But I think I knew — the world knew — that it would be short-lived.”
And it was. In 2019, ViacomCBS acquired the Garfield property from Paws, Inc., placing it under the Nickelodeon banner and forcing Mazri to renegotiate the terms of his license. In early 2020, COVID-19 hit, leading to the closure of GarfieldEATS Toronto amid Mazri’s highly public dispute with the property owner. Haider, Mazri’s key investor, dropped out. And for every fan eager to greet the Garfield King, there was an internet troll ready to latch onto his eccentric presence, amplified by rambling communications like this self-published essay which argues that “Garfield is loved by all ages, gender and race.” Detractors called GarfieldEATS an “orange hellscape,” taking to Reddit to label Mazri as “delusional,” a “bizarre train wreck” and someone who “reads too much Forbes magazine.”
This wasn’t driven by the GarfieldEATS brand, per se, but by Mazri’s outspoken response to fairly standard criticism on YouTube and social media. He’d pop into Discord threads, responding to detractors with frantic paragraphs that ignored most laws of grammar and syntax. He dipped into conspiracy theories, once entering into a concerning dalliance with QAnon. (Mazri has since denounced the conspiracy group, stating that he regrets the time he spent “down the rabbit hole.”) He appeared in baffling YouTube videos including this jarring adaptation of Vogue’s “73 Questions” series. Then, in December 2021, Mazri received an email from ViacomCBS terminating his Garfield licensing agreement. “One day before Christmas,” Mazri says. “Those bastards.”
Now, Mazri and his fans are engaged in a constant crusade against ViacomCBS. “They’re on my case,” he says. “They have their legal department after me every single fucking day.” The veracity of that is unclear, though Mazri has confirmed that he owes substantial money in licensing fees and has faced numerous copyright disputes since his license was terminated. The most recent example was his line of GarfieldEATS NFTs, which he says were yanked from OpenSea following a directive from ViacomCBS.
Upon speaking to Mazri, it’s clear that his campaign against ViacomCBS is no ordinary business dispute. To Mazri, the GarfieldEATS saga represents more than just another business venture tanked by the pandemic. It’s an attack on his character; a slap in the face. It feels extra raw when you consider the ways in which Mazri intertwined his personality — his value as a human being, really — with his business. Take, for example, the syntactic mechanics with which Mazri speaks about his experience with ViacomCBS. He relies heavily on personal pronouns; instead of referencing “the restaurant” or “GarfieldEATS,” he refers to himself. To hear him tell it, the GarfieldEATS fan base was, at its core, a Nathen Mazri fan base. Conversely, you’ll never hear him say that ViacomCBS had it out for GarfieldEATS. “From day one, ViacomCBS was threatened by me,” he says.
It’s worth exploring why Mazri’s personality is so inextricably linked to the Garfield brand, for better or worse. Part of it could be the natural consequence of capitalizing on a beloved intellectual property that he, himself, enjoyed as a youngster. Beyond that, he’s open about the fact that he likes the attention. “I don’t know why I feel the pressure — pressure that I always have to post, impress, entertain, engage,” he says. “If I don’t post — if I don’t ‘entergage’ — nothing happens. No attention. No oxytocin. That oxytocin… I feel maybe I’m in need of it.” (“Entergage” is Mazri’s signature portmanteau, combining “entertain” and “engage.”)
But Mazri’s problem is more likely the result of our society’s insistence that every move be leveraged for profit. You like baking? Quick — better start a baking TikTok. You like Garfield? Great — get yourself an orange Garfield suit and brand yourself as the Garfield King of Toronto before someone else does. It’s personal branding at its most sinister, and it’s demanded of anyone in a relatively public-facing field. It’s enough to drive even the most level-headed entrepreneur to distraction.
Among other things, Mazri is a cautionary tale about an ill-fated attempt to shroud one’s identity in someone else’s intellectual property. “When I would go [to the restaurant], I’d see young people who’d say, ‘Oh my god, that’s the Garfield guy!” Mazri recalls. “The Garfield King — that’s what they called me.” Of course, he was never the Garfield King. ViacomCBS was, and is, the Garfield King. They own the property, and they call the shots. According to Mazri, that desire for control was a major reason for his licensing termination. To hear him tell it, he was getting too big — and the company got nervous. “According to our social listening tool, we have over 10 million mentions and memes [that include] my name, Nathen Mazri, combined with the words ‘Garfield’ or ‘GarfieldEATS,’” Mazri says. “When I saw that, I couldn’t believe it. Now I know why they’re on my case. Now I know why they’re so careful with their IP.” (ViacomCBS representatives failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Who is Mazri now that he’s been forced to cede his Garfield King title? He doesn’t know yet. A month ago, his Instagram bio warned that he was “not taking any media inquiries,” would “not be reachable” and was not “visiting or conducting any meetings.” The message seemed frantic; they were the words of a man burned out and broken from years of attempting to “entergage” his fans. “I was in the middle of an identity crisis,” Mazri explains. “The detachment of Garfield, that has burdened me. I’m grieving. Maybe I’ve learned to never ever get attached to a place, person or thing. Maybe I’ve learned the power of detachment.”
Learning the “power of detachment” may or may not be a good thing. Regardless, Mazri appears to be actively focusing on self-reflection — even as, like any proud capitalist, he’s working on his next move. He’s joining director Ewan Gotfryd as the executive producer of an upcoming Garfield documentary. He’s also launching Egeez, a digital platform that he calls “the world’s first marketplace” for certified licensed products. “I feel that my life has brought me into the licensing industry, and I feel Garfield — that orange, fat cat — has really brought me to that light at the end of the tunnel to solve a licensing problem,” Mazri says wistfully.
And though he doesn’t have many occasions to wear his signature suit, he’s still quick to drop his “World’s Youngest Garfield Licensee” status into nearly every conversation. He can’t let go of the cat, and the cat can’t let go of him. In a way, it’s exactly like Garfield says: ”Love Me, Feed Me, Never Leave Me.”