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.

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 caf&ea­cute; 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

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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