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What Dietz & Watson is trying to do with its ‘jawn’ tote bags and ‘body by bacon’ swimsuits

The pop-up store on Philly's South Street is full of meat innuendos on apparel; Philadelphia-themed products like a “Gritty” siracha aioli and a “wooder” bottle; and, of course, deli meats, snacks, and other food items.

A bathing suit at Dietz & Watson pop up store at fifth and south streets in Philadelphia, May 8, 2019.
A bathing suit at Dietz & Watson pop up store at fifth and south streets in Philadelphia, May 8, 2019.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Britni Stowell lifted the folded white shirt and read the text on the front to her friend: “Classy in the streets.”

Then she turned it around to see the back. “But a freak with the meats,” she said.

The two 27-year-old students laughed.

“I don’t think my mom would approve of me wearing it,” said her friend, Kelly Baxter.

“I don’t know if my grandmother would know what it means,” Stowell responded.

The two were drawn into the Dietz & Watson “Delishop,” a 3,000-square-foot pop-up at Fifth and South Streets on Wednesday by the gear they saw in the windows. Once inside, they saw the “body by bacon” one-piece bathing suit, a “jawn” tote bag, an “i <3 wieners” T-shirt, and a “little ham” onesie. One small section features cotton shirts, fanny packs, boxers, and baseball caps, all with the saying “Dietz Nuts."

This pop-up is part of the company’s bid to attract younger consumers and stand out in a crowded marketplace. Arby’s released a $25 subscription box in January that gives customers one package a month for six months full of branded merchandise. Chobani rolled out a children’s clothing line in March to promote its Greek yogurt kids’ snacks. And Auntie Anne’s website promotes its “pretzel swag,” with pretzel-themed leggings, tote bags, sweatshirts, and T-shirts, with all proceeds going to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

“Fashion and food is always a good mix,” said Nioka Wyatt, a fashion merchandising and management assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University. “It makes people smile -- at least for me it does. Given the hustle and bustle in the world that we live in, to add a smile on customers’ faces makes a big difference.”

Executives have seen how the business has changed. Two decades ago, Dietz’s most popular items were sliced deli items. Now, protein snacks are surging, including such items as organic beef jerky, meat and cheese snack packs, and Dietz Nuts, which debuted during the Super Bowl in February.

Lauren Eni also isn’t sure her grandmother, Ruth “Momma” Dietz Eni, would understand all the jokes at the family company’s pop-up store.

Momma Dietz did know about “Dietz Nuts," though, and all the success her Philadelphia-based company saw after its risky Super Bowl commercial full of references to “nuts,” inspired by the meme “Deez Nuts.”

Stowell said she thought of the commercial when she saw the Dietz & Watson sign by the entrance.

The Dietz family celebrated Momma Dietz’s 94th birthday a couple weeks before she died in February, and she told Lauren Eni that “we have to do something different,” Eni said. “And in my head I’m thinking, ‘Well, OK.’”

Eni, who is vice president of brand strategy, had been working on this concept for months. The store is full of meat innuendos on apparel, Philadelphia-themed products such as a “Gritty” sriracha aioli and a “wooder” water bottle, and, of course, deli meats, snacks, and other food items.

The items are also for sale online. Prices range from around $10 for a bacon bottle opener, hoagie keychain, tote bag, and boxers to $30 to $40 for hot dog leggings and sweatshirts. Most shirts are about $20.

“She was very progressive,” Eni said of her grandmother. "She was always, I think, willing to try something new and fun and was very into getting the next generation to enjoy our products.”

The core customer is usually a middle-aged couple with at least two kids. This store is designed as a photo opportunity, encouraging visitors to take pictures in the chair covered in upholstery with a hot dog design, a mini booth with a light-up Dietz & Watson sign, mannequins posed to be grilling hot dogs, and a section to play “meat & cheesy” cornhole.

“People are doing whatever they can to break out of the clutter,” said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the Wharton School. To compete with Amazon, Walmart, Costco, or other big-name retailers, “you’ve got to create some emotional connection and recognition for that brand name.”

If pop-up visitors don’t buy anything, Kahn said, it can still be an entertaining experience and leave people with good feelings about the brand. Even if someone just takes a picture of the store or buys a funny shirt and sends it to a friend, it helps the company.

Dietz & Watson is celebrating its 80th birthday, so the company set up this shop relatively close to its original store, at Second and Vine Streets. Eni hopes this pop-up introduces the younger generation to the brand. So far, the company has seen a roughly equal split in sales between the accessories and apparel and the food.

Eni said she views the Dietz & Watson brand as fun and wants customers to see it that way, too. People grill with hot dogs and create memories around food. Customers are already giving Dietz & Watson feedback, including a desire for more Philadelphia-specific gear.

Eni declined to share information about the private company’s sales, but said Dietz & Watson has more than 1,500 employees.

The store is open May 1 to July 28 from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Gritty stopped by May 4 for the store’s opening weekend. There’s a charcuterie party planned for Mother’s Day, and free rainbow hot dogs and T-shirts for the first 50 people from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. during Pride Weekend (June 7 to 9).

Visitors can sample hoagies every other Wednesday starting this week from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; pair meat, cheese, and beer every other Thursday starting next week from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and enjoy kids’ snackables, “wooder ice,” face painting, a magician, and giveaways every other Tuesday starting next week from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Even though Stowell and Baxter, both graduate students at the Drexel University College of Medicine, walked out of the store empty-handed, they seemed to enjoy the humor.

“If I had more money, I would totally buy some of this,” Stowell said.

“I need to have an income again," Baxter said, “and then I can buy funny, witty ... T-shirts."