Good neighbor talks turkey

Growth: Dietz & Watson will transfer its poultry operations to Baltimore. It is continuing the summer jobs tradition of the Parks Sausage plant it bought. They make deli meat and good neighbors

Lunch meats

July 14, 1999|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Dietz & Watson Inc., the Philadelphia maker of delicatessen meat that acquired the former Parks Sausage Co. plant in Baltimore, will transfer its poultry operations to Baltimore and could employ as many as 150 by next summer, when the plant should be running at full speed, company officials said yesterday.

Dietz & Watson's business growth "the past few years has been phenomenal," Louis Eni, the company's president, said during a visit to the plant yesterday.

The 133,000-square-foot Parks plant is being refurbished to accommodate Dietz & Watson production lines. Not that the plant has been sitting idle.

Dietz & Watson officials were in town yesterday because of a morning visit by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke who came to congratulate the hundred or more summer workers of high school age who are using the plant to make box breakfasts and lunches for children attending summer school or summer camps in the area.

The students, such as Polytechnic Institute graduate William Richards, 18, are technically working for Martin's Caterers, which has the contract for the Baltimore summer lunch program.

The workers, most earning minimum wage, work about 4 1/2 hours a day making the morning and noontime meals that are distributed to about 100 schools and 275 camps and recreation sites around the city.

The workers produce up to 16,000 breakfasts and 24,000 lunches daily, said Jeff Post, a Martin's vice president.

About $1.5 million in federal money finances the meals program, he said.

Dietz & Watson is providing the space for a nominal rent, continuing a tradition Parks Sausage started several years ago in what was then a new plant.

The rent does not offset the business the company will forgo as the meals program puts the plant's renovation about three months behind schedule, Eni said.

"We're trying to establish ourself as a good neighbor," he said.

Dietz & Watson has to alter the factory's floor plan -- it has already knocked out some walls -- and install equipment because it will be making products such as turkey lunch meat instead of the sausages Parks made.

Ovens are ready

Equipment such as the "smokehouse" ovens used to create smoked turkey breast lunch meats is ready for installation.

"All the pieces are there; it just needs rearranging," said Chris Eni, Louis Eni's brother and a Dietz & Watson senior vice president, who spends about half of each week at the Park Heights plant.

With business growing 15 percent to 20 percent, the company needed more manufacturing space, Louis Eni said. Dietz & Watson's growth has increased because of business with such large supermarket chains as Super Fresh Co. and Giant Food Inc., and with the smaller customers it still focuses on.

Dietz & Watson bought the Parks Sausage plant early this year because it could easily be converted for deli-meat production and was a two-hour drive from the company's headquarters and plants, where it has as many as 470 employees.

Turkey is hot

Turkey products are Dietz & Watson's fastest-growing segment, and that's the business Baltimore is going to get, executives said. Dietz & Watson makes about 30 turkey-based products, Louis Eni said.

The company will move the turkey operations to Baltimore piecemeal, beginning with packaging and working its way backward to production. That way, there will be a fully trained staff here when the plant is fully in operation.

Schmoke said he is optimistic that Dietz & Watson has the deep pockets and know-how to turn the Parks Sausage plant back into a solid employer.

Dietz & Watson still makes Parks Sausage products in Philadelphia under contract to former Parks Sausage owner Franco Harris, the one-time Pittsburgh Steelers running back who still owns the Parks name and product lines.

Pub Date: 7/14/99

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