Northeast Times

Road trip

A Dietz & Watson food truck is traveling cross-country to celebrate the family business’ 75th anniversary.

  • Tasty travels: The Dietz & Watson lunch truck and its crew tackle a 200-day, 25-city journey from Atlantic to Pacific and back again in celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary. The tour launched last month. PHOTOS COURTESY OF DIETZ & WATSON

  • Dietz & Watson celebrates its 75th anniversary with employees.

  • A family affair: Momma Dietz (second from right) joins granddaughter Lauren Eni, son Chris Eni and daughter Cindy Yingling as their company celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Momma Di­etz wasn’t ex­pect­ing a gift of dia­monds in com­mem­or­a­tion of her fam­ily busi­ness’ 75th an­niversary. In fact, her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren asked the Di­etz & Wat­son com­pany mat­ri­arch to hit the road.

Ac­tu­ally, that’s a good thing for Ruth Di­etz Eni, who must step out­side her real-life per­sona only slightly to per­son­i­fy her com­pany’s grand­moth­erly pub­lic face. Last month, Eni launched a per­son­al whirl­wind tour of the coun­try. She’s plan­ning to vis­it about 10 cit­ies this sum­mer and early fall, when she’ll meet up with the D&W lunch truck as its crew tackles a mo­nu­ment­al 200-day, 25-city jour­ney from At­lantic to Pa­cific and back again.

The year 2014 marks the 75th an­niversary of Phil­adelphia’s fa­vor­ite premi­um deli meats pro­du­cer, which has grown to be­come one of the na­tion’s largest. The tour will cel­eb­rate the mile­stone and, com­pany of­fi­cials hope, pro­mote con­tin­ued growth.

“We really wanted to do something out­side our nor­mal ad­vert­ising cam­paign. And we al­ways say, the best way to sell our product is to get people to taste it,” said Lauren Eni, the firm’s vice pres­id­ent of brand strategy and Momma Di­etz’s grand­daugh­ter.

Lauren Eni rep­res­ents the fourth gen­er­a­tion of her fam­ily in­volved in the busi­ness. In 1939, Ruth’s fath­er Got­tlieb Di­etz, a Ger­man im­mig­rant saus­age maker, bought the ail­ing Wat­son Meat Com­pany while keep­ing former own­er Wal­ter Wat­son on as sales man­ager. In ad­di­tion to re­nam­ing the busi­ness, Got­tlieb (a Ger­man name mean­ing “God’s love”) ad­op­ted the man­tra “qual­ity above all else.”

While the com­pany re­mained re­l­at­ively small for sev­er­al dec­ades, product qual­ity re­mained top pri­or­ity. Every­one in the founder’s house­hold con­trib­uted, in­clud­ing Ruth from an early age.

“We had no va­ca­tions. We went to work,” Momma Di­etz said. “My fath­er worked con­stantly and mom came along, too, and helped. I think we ate and slept Di­etz & Wat­son. We loved it. At din­ner, we al­ways dis­cussed busi­ness. I wanted to be­come a teach­er and my fath­er said, ‘Does that make sense when you’ve got our busi­ness.’ ”

Got­tlieb Di­etz passed away in 1964, leav­ing the com­pany to his chil­dren. Ruth Di­etz Eni with her late hus­band Louis ex­pan­ded the com­pany from its mod­est ori­gins at Front and Vine streets. Today, the firm em­ploys about 1,300 and op­er­ates a 320,000-square-foot headquar­ters in the Ta­cony sec­tion of the North­east, along with a com­par­able plant in Bal­timore. The com­pany is in dis­cus­sions with pub­lic of­fi­cials on both sides of the Delaware to re­place its 300,000-square-foot Del­anco, N.J., dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter that suc­cumbed to fire last Septem­ber. 

“We have a few sites in mind, in­clud­ing our ori­gin­al site in Jer­sey,” Lauren Eni said. “We hope in the very, very near fu­ture to have an an­nounce­ment [on that]. We haven’t ruled out any pos­sib­il­ity.”

It will be a fam­ily de­cision at any rate. Eight re­l­at­ives hold po­s­i­tions in the com­pany. Ruth Di­etz Eni is chair­man, while her son Louis Eni is CEO. Ruth’s daugh­ter Cindy Yingling is chief fin­an­cial of­ficer, with Ruth’s son Chris Eni as chief op­er­at­ing of­ficer.

“I’m quite proud of this. It’s a shame [my fath­er] can’t see how we’ve grown,” Ruth said. “I hope he’s look­ing down.”

The ex­ec­ut­ives share the fam­ily vibe with em­ploy­ees, many of whom work year-round in the chilly meat pro­cessing rooms, bund­ling up each day for winter re­gard­less of the tem­per­at­ure out­side.

“We treat them like part of the fam­ily,” Ruth said. “We do the best to make them com­fort­able. They eat the same we eat. They get free lunch every day.”

Work­ers from the Ta­cony plant were first to taste del­ic­acies from the D&W truck on April 8 just be­fore it em­barked on the months-long road trip. The menu in­cluded Chef Roc Street Ta­cos, Tur­key Tor­tilla Soup, Pasta and Saus­age and Hawaii­an Fried Rice.

Phil Carne­vale, a 41-year em­ploy­ee from Pennypack Woods, re­mem­bers the old days at Front and Vine. While pro­duc­tion meth­ods have evolved, the com­pany still doesn’t com­prom­ise the qual­ity of its products, which in­clude more than 520 meat and cheese del­ic­acies.

“We did everything by hand. That was the only way,” Carne­vale said. “You didn’t have all this tech­no­logy then. [But] they al­ways treated you good. You go to work, do a good job and have pride and that makes everything suc­cess­ful.”

Para­phras­ing Shakespeare’s Ham­let, Carne­vale ad­ded, “Above all else, be true and loy­al to your­self. You’ve also got to be true to oth­er people. You’ve got to take pride in what you make.”

As for the fri­gid work­ing en­vir­on­ment, Carne­vale said, “You’ve just got to wear a couple of thermals. It’s not that bad. We’ve got to keep the meat cold.”

Ac­cord­ing to Lauren Eni, the D&W truck was to make its first of­fi­cial stop in Hou­s­ton be­fore head­ing west to Cali­for­nia, east to Flor­ida, up the coast to New Eng­land and even­tu­ally back to Philly. It will be at the Jer­sey Shore for Labor Day.

The crew will cus­tom­ize re­cipes to each loc­ale, demon­strat­ing the vari­ety and ver­sat­il­ity of the com­pany’s products. There will be quesa­d­il­las with Santa Fe Tur­key Breast in the South­w­est and Chica­go Dogs in the Windy City.

“We have dis­tri­bu­tion in every state. We’ve grown tre­mend­ously in the last few years in Cali­for­nia,” Lauren Eni said. “We have very loy­al and nos­tal­gic con­sumers who de­mand the brand when they move out of the area. Plus, we’ve worked really hard in the last fif­teen years in es­tab­lish­ing our re­tail trade. … We have a lot of pride and that’s what really in­spires us to keep it go­ing and main­tain the qual­ity.” ••

For com­pany in­form­a­tion, products and re­cipes, vis­it www.di­et­zand­wat­son.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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