As the food service industry opens up after the lockdown, longtime pizza-shop operator Ozzy Anwari finds himself on the sidewalk, locked out of his former business in the Beach.
He and members of his family who used to work with him are picketing Mamma’s Pizza at 2118 Queen St. E., calling for a boycott.
Anwari held the franchise for more than 17 years until the Mamma’s Pizza corporation locked him out after he refused to comply with an exorbitant increase in fees, he said in an interview.
“I’ve been here since 2004,” he said. “I’m the longest serving franchisee in the history of the company.”
By the franchise agreement, Mamma’s is allowed to increase royalties paid by the franchisee by only five per cent, but the company sought a 70 per cent increase, Anwari said.
“We refused to sign those increases. So they sent in their private bailiff on the 28th of June and they changed the locks and they kept the store closed for eight, nine days, and they started operating with their corporate employees in there,” he said. “And so we’re out here protesting.”
Statement’s from the Mamma’s Pizza Corporate Office, posted on the store windows, said the franchise agreement expired at the end of March 2019. The franchisee was paying royalties of $346 per week, about 2.5 per cent of the monthly sales at the Beach store, compared to 4–5 per cent at other Mamma’s locations, a poster said.
“The renewal agreement presented to the former franchisee in 2019 called for a flat rate royalty of $1,500.00 per month, an increase of $75 per month),” a statement read. “The now former franchisee persistently refused to sign the renewal agreement. The now former franchisee has only paid $1,500 per month in royalties since April 1, 2019 and has not paid the $5,000 renewal fee, which Mamma’s offered to further discount by 50%.”
Anwari said this 2019 agreement was replaced when in 2020 he was offered a new agreement that would raise royalties by more than 70 per cent and require a $10,000 signing fee.
Anwari said the company sent him a letter from a lawyer saying if he didn’t sign the agreement containing these increases they would terminate the franchise agreement and they gave him five-days notice.
He and his staff closed the store as usual on a Monday night and at about 11:30 p.m. he received an email alert that the place had been broken into. He called the police and when he and the police arrived at the store, they found the corporation had a locksmith and a security guard from the private bailiff there, as the corporation had taken over the shop.
After getting the go-ahead from his lawyers, Anwari and members of his staff, who are also family members, started taking turns picketing the location.
On the day he was interviewed, Anwari was joined by his brother, his son and two nephews.
The response from former customers has been gratifying, he said.
“They know me,” he said. “Seventeen and a half years is a long time.”
They don’t tell people not to go into the store but after he explains the situation, most of them turn away, Anwari said.
During the interview, one former customer came up to him and said, “I go back in when you go back in.”
After all these years, the Beach community is part of his family, Anwari said. “They’re not going to stand by a corporation pushing families onto the street.”
He doesn’t know how long he’ll be picketing but he’ll follow his lawyer’s advice.
Isn’t the legal fight against the Mamma’s Pizza corporation expensive?
“They cost me my whole life,” he said. “That’s my whole life there, how much more can I lose? Whatever I have, I’ve lost it…. I’m trying to get what’s mine.”
The corporation also seems aware of the community response. One poster notes: “We appreciate all the customer concerns and comments regarding the Mamma Pizza in the Beaches. We are a small company that takes pride in serving the community.”