Friday, May 25, 2012

The way we were...Allan "A.C." Cohen, Miami's first food truck entrepreneur

Allan Cohen, owner of A.C.'s Icees, playing Frisbee
in Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove 30 years ago.
The Miami News, May 26, 1982.

These days in Miami, it's almost impossible to swing a dead cat without hitting a gaggle of food trucks.

They seem to be everywhere.

More than 30 years ago there was just one.

And it was always parked in the same spot: Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove.

In 2008, the Miami Herald's Jose Pagliery profiled Allan Cohen, a Coconut Grove icon and mainstay and owner of A.C's Icees.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A.C .'s Icees, a signature treat in Coconut Grove, has turned 30 -- but the business owner's chill soul and sweet frozen lemonade have remained the same.

Since the groovy 1970s, Coconut Grove, some say, has lost part of its soul and reputation as the sweet vacation spot and artistic corner of Miami.

But the icee man's business on wheels has outlasted some of the concrete buildings in the Miami neighborhood.

On Saturday, the city of Miami and dozens of Groveites celebrated A.C.'s Icees' 30th year in business. The white-and-yellow truck, owned by Allan Cohen, known to the world as "A.C.," has, over the decades, become a signature spot in the Grove.

"We don't have many icons and things that are constant in this city. And there's something comforting about knowing that truck and yellow umbrella will always be there," said Robert Parente, director of Miami's Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and a friend of Cohen's. "We're honoring the fact that he's the first mobile concessionaire, and in a city with so much change, A.C. has endured."

The city placed and named a stone seating area close to the icee truck's usual spot in Kennedy Park in Cohen 's honor. As the first to receive a mobile concession permit from Miami, Cohen was credited by the city for being the Grove "institution." The free-sprited, bearded, 62-year-old A.C. wouldn't use that term.

"I don't know how to take that," Cohen said jokingly on Friday, his long gray strands framing the sides of his face.

He refuses to change his chilled and relaxed business model and works his one-man operation much like he started it -- on a whim.

"My life is fun. It's not about counting cups and icees and dollars," Cohen said, while mashing some of the whipped frozen lemonade. "It's being happy and healthy."

Born and raised near Detroit, a 32-year-old Cohen left a lucrative swimming pool business in 1978, when he became tired of the boss he called "abusive and a tyrant."

When money no longer mattered, he escaped without a plan to what was once his vacation spot: Coconut Grove.

It was at Kennedy Park, where he would frequently exercise, that he noticed fellow runners and Frisbee players would get terribly thirsty and have to walk to a store blocks away for a quick drink.

A.C.'s Icees was started soon thereafter.

Since then, Cohen wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to start making his famously secret frozen lemonade concoction at his small warehouse. He's driven his truck into the same spot at the small park's lot, opening its window around 11 a.m. and closing it around 6 p.m.

Damon Rabin, who would bike to the park with his friends for hotdogs and 50-cent icees when he was 13 years old, met with Cohen during Saturday's celebration. He recalled gaining Cohen 's trust to the point where he and his friends would even run a tab up to $5.

At 22, Rabin worked for Cohen, relieving him a few days a week. Rabin now works with Sysco Food Systems, supplying Cohen with some his materials.

" A.C. would sit in his chair and read his paper between customers. We'd be winging the Frisbee back and forth," Rabin remembered. "It was life in the park. It was awesome. That's what it's about."

College kids still flock to the spot on their way back from Miami Beach to slurp the sweet frozen lemonade to cool off from a long day on the sand. Business types make a quick stop for hotdogs and icees, saying hello to the man who's served them since they were children.

Despite his reluctance to use computers, he has 806 fans in the online group " A.C .'s Icees." After sending soccer balls to orphans in Africa, there is now an A.C.'s Icees soccer team in Kigali, Rwanda.

A framed note from a 1983 graduate of Ransom Everglades School reads: "Your story continues to be an inspiration. Thanks for not settling for the status quo."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment on anything you read here.

All comments must first be approved. Spam and spam links will not be tolerated or approved.