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.” ••