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Tasty Traditions

Louis Eni, president of Dietz & Watson, and Ruth Dietz Eni, better known as “Momma Dietz,” discuss business at the Wissinoming plant. KEVIN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

Dietz & Watson has remained a Philadelphia company for more than 70 years and, perhaps more importantly, a family business.

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Advertising is where reality and perception often diverge. But in the case of Momma Dietz, the ads only begin to tell the whole truth.

Ruth Dietz Eni is, in fact, that grandmotherly figure with the horn-rimmed glasses, pearl necklace and mustard-colored sweater featured in Dietz & Watson’s ads promoting its premium deli meats. And like the ads, she’s always quick with a bit of practical advice like, “Never cut corners,” and available to answer a myriad of vital questions, such as, “How do I cook a hot dog?”

But when not being called upon for her parental wisdom, Dietz Eni won’t be found sitting in a rocking chair knitting baby booties. She’ll be at the office, overseeing activities and guiding attitudes at the Wissinoming-based company founded by her father Gottlieb Dietz 72 years ago.

“I check all the checks that go out,” Dietz Eni said during a recent chat at Dietz & Watson’s Tacony Street headquarters. “I’m very fortunate that the family is interested (in the company) and doing a great job. We’ve always said, ‘Quality above all.’ That was my father’s theme and we carry that through.”

Folks in Philadelphia need no introduction to Dietz & Watson. For generations, they’ve grown up seeing the company’s iconic red diamond logo on delicatessen signs and café umbrellas.

Philadelphians also have long enjoyed the company’s staple and specialty cold cuts, along with its hot dogs, sausages and other European-inspired prepared meats.

In more recent times, consumers around the country have been able to take pleasure in those same treats thanks to improvements in packaging and distribution.

But despite its vast growth, Dietz & Watson remains very much a Philadelphia company and, perhaps more importantly, a family business.

Dietz Eni’s three children, Louis, Chris and Cindy Eni (Yingling), now serve as CEO, COO and CFO, while Louis’ daughter Lauren Eni and Cindy’s son Christopher Yingling are also working for the company.

“We have people that have worked for us that are experts in how to make premium products. But what came from the top was the commitment to quality,” Lou Eni said.

“(Then) my brother and sister and I, we came into the business in the (nineteen) seventies and we saw this was a great opportunity to grow the business, and that’s what we did.”

In 1939, Gottlieb Dietz was a young German sausage maker who had worked in several of Philadelphia’s meatpacking plants and wanted to go into business for himself. He bought into a corned beef company owned by Walter Watson, then soon bought out Watson, who stayed on as the new company’s sales manager.

Ruth Dietz Eni grew up around the business, sampling her father’s new recipes. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she joined the business and led its development into the city’s largest deli meat purveyor.

At the time, the company was based along Delaware Avenue near Vine Street. In the 1970s, when PennDOT began to complete Interstate 95 through the city, Dietz & Watson moved to the much larger Tacony Street site.

Today, the plant is about 260,000 square feet and is one of three operated by the company. It also owns a facility in Baltimore, along with its primary distribution center in Delanco, Burlington County. In all, the firm employs about 1,000 people.

“What we have done is grow our business from a local brand, then a regional brand to a national brand. What we didn’t do was change the focus we had on quality,” Lou Eni said.

The Tacony Street site, which operates 16 hours per day, is like an amusement park for the senses. In one room, freshly cooked hot dogs and sausages can be seen shooting machine gun-style through a device that removes their casings, while in another room, the aroma of marinated roast beef and proprietary seasonings overwhelm the nostrils.

The production lines feature some high-tech equipment, but most also require a human touch. Much of the “whole muscle meats,” such as hams, turkey breasts and roast beef, are trimmed and seasoned by hand.

“We’ve never gone away from batch-sized processing because that could take away from the quality,” Lou Eni said. “There’s a lot of hand work. A lot of hand seasoning.”

Retailers and consumers appreciate such attention to detail. Many convenience stores and chain supermarkets don’t offer Dietz & Watson products, which tend to be a bit more expensive than lesser brands. But the brand maintains a loyal following.

“You’ll find our products in almost all of the independent stores and in the better supermarket delis,” Lou Eni said. “We try to look for (retailers) who don’t take shortcuts, who have that same commitment to quality.

“Our deli meats are not the least expensive, so why are the delis selling it? Because it’s the best product and people recognize that.” ••

Visit Dietz & Watson at www.dietzandwatson.com

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

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