Northeast Times

When Momma comes calling

As the chair­wo­man and pub­lic face of Di­etz & Wat­son Inc., Ruth “Momma Di­etz” Eni pitches her product from Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue to Texas and places in between.

The good news is, the brand is widely re­cog­nized.

“I travel all over the coun­try, and no mat­ter where I go, they seem to know Di­etz & Wat­son,” she said.

Got­tlieb Di­etz, her fath­er, foun­ded the com­pany in 1939. It was loc­ated along Delaware Av­en­ue, near Vine Street. He died in 1964, and his daugh­ter took over the busi­ness.

In 1975, the com­pany moved to its present loc­a­tion — 5701 Ta­cony St. in Wissi­nom­ing.

Today, Di­etz & Wat­son is one of the largest pre­parers and dis­trib­ut­ors of deli meats and cheeses in the United States. Its products ap­pear in del­is and su­per­mar­kets across Amer­ica and in oth­er coun­tries. The com­pany is privately held and does not dis­cuss fin­ances, but its an­nu­al sales are be­lieved to be more than $400 mil­lion.

Sev­er­al years ago, the com­pany’s Har­ris­burg-based ad­vert­ising agency sug­ges­ted a Momma Di­etz-type char­ac­ter to ap­pear on bill­boards, in print ads and on ra­dio com­mer­cials. Eni — who turned 88 two weeks ago — fit the mold more so than a pro­fes­sion­al act­ress.

“I went along with it,” she said. “I tried it to see if I was good enough.”

Di­etz & Wat­son flour­ishes be­cause of cus­tom­ers such as Al’s Corner Deli & Ca­ter­ing, at 7940 Tor­res­dale Ave. (at Rhawn Street).

Al’s opened in 1976, a year after Di­etz & Wat­son landed in the North­east. Al Gasperi foun­ded the busi­ness, which is op­er­ated by his sons Bruce, Steve, An­drew and daugh­ter Barb Kleschick.

Al’s re­cently in­stalled new deli cases, and Momma Di­etz figured it was a good time to stop by. She sched­uled her vis­it for last Thursday.

“They’re one of our old­est cus­tom­ers, and a great cus­tom­er,” she said.

Momma Di­etz ar­rived about 11 a.m. Pris­on work­ers, New Found­a­tions Charter School stu­dents and neigh­bor­hood folks kept the staff busy mak­ing sand­wiches and filling or­ders. The size of the crowd im­pressed the Di­etz & Wat­son boss.

“It’s not even lunch­time yet,” she said.

Momma Di­etz signed auto­graphs, posed for pic­tures and popped in on the kit­chen crew. She de­cided to stay on her feet the whole time rather than sit in her pink dir­ect­or’s chair.

Deli cus­tom­ers re­ceived giveaways — T-shirts, hats, vi­sors, pens, Fris­bees, hot dogs, hot roast beef sand­wiches, ham and cheese.

After leav­ing the deli, she headed to the grand open­ing of the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5 headquar­ters in the Far North­east.

Momma Di­etz said she en­joys mak­ing pub­lic ap­pear­ances to pro­mote her product line and boost a cus­tom­er’s busi­ness.

“If people want me to come to their store, I’ll gladly go,” she said. “We have a good product. It’s pure meat, no fillers or MSG.”

Momma Di­etz is even more pleased about the com­pany’s fam­ily tra­di­tion. She has a grand­daugh­ter and grand­son in the busi­ness.

“We’re quite proud of be­ing in the fourth gen­er­a­tion,” she said.

At Al’s, the Di­etz & Wat­son product line in­cludes may­on­naise, mus­tard and Pep­p­er­oni on the Go, along with, of course, a large vari­ety of meats and cheeses.

There’s no mis­tak­ing that Al’s is a Di­etz & Wat­son cus­tom­er, from its out­door sign to the um­brel­las on the out­side tables. The own­ers be­lieve cus­tom­ers re­late to the product.

“They have quite a line, Di­etz & Wat­son,” said An­drew Gasperi. “Phil­adelphia is a Di­etz & Wat­son town. It’s a big name in the city.”

Al’s has come a long way since selling Christ­mas trees and East­er plants in its pre-deli days of the early 1970s. The store has ex­pan­ded and owns a park­ing lot across the street.

“We’ve been here since 1976. We’re the ori­gin­al own­ers and have one of the big­ger del­is in the city,” An­drew said. “People love the lunch meat. It’s so fresh. We get cus­tom­ers from the fire academy, the po­lice academy, the pris­ons and a lot of factor­ies.” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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