Dietz & Watson battling back from blaze

A fire destroyed the Dietz & Watson plant in Burlco on Labor Day weekend. The firm was ramping up even before the fire was under control.
A fire destroyed the Dietz & Watson plant in Burlco on Labor Day weekend. The firm was ramping up even before the fire was under control. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 12, 2013

The massive Labor Day weekend fire at Dietz & Watson's Delanco warehouse destroyed not just the building but also two weeks' supply of deli meat, hot dogs, and hams.

To make up for the loss, management called production workers in on Labor Day, even before the blaze was declared under control late that afternoon.

"We have produced record amounts of product in one week," Louis J. Eni Jr., chief executive of the 74-year-old, family-owned firm, said in an interview Monday, after working through the weekend, as did the entire company.

"We will have made up what we lost probably by the end of the week or early next week."

The company's priority was to make sure its top-selling items were available.

"They haven't missed a beat," said Mary Washinko, Acme Markets' service deli sales manager. "I know they are going 24/7, so they are doing an absolutely wonderful job, considering the constraints they are under."

Many of Dietz & Watson's commercial customers had offered to help the company recover, Eni said, declining to provide details.

Acme offered refrigerated warehouse space in Lancaster County and refrigerated trailers, said Dennis Clark, vice president of marketing and merchandising for the supermarket chain.

Dietz & Watson is using the trailers at its plant in Philadelphia's Wissinoming neighborhood as mini-refrigerated warehouses. In the short term, those trailers are helping rebuild Dietz & Watson's distribution system.

Before the company opened its 260,000-foot warehouse in Delanco in 2007, the Philadelphia plant served as Dietz & Watson's main distribution center.

The Burlington County site also handled logistics for other food companies, including Keller's Creamery, because there was more space than Dietz & Watson needed, Eni said. Dietz & Watson had about 130 workers there, including those who handled distribution for other companies.

Eni declined to estimate the value of the loss.

Dietz & Watson management spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday visiting refrigerated sites to develop a new distribution plan.

"That plan won't be finalized and implemented until the end of this month," Eni said. He expected the "temporarily permanent plan" will "be in place for the next year and a half to two years, until we have a permanent fix."

On Tuesday, the company planned to start shipping out of a Preferred Freezer Services location in South Philadelphia.

The family has already started to think about rebuilding. "It's not a possibility that we won't," Eni said. "The possibility is that it might look different."


Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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