Food News

Allan Cohen of A.C.'s Icees Celebrates 40 Years of Turning Lemons Into Frozen Lemonade

Call him "A.C." Only his mom called him Allan.
Call him "A.C." Only his mom called him Allan. Photo by Nicola Haubold
click to enlarge Call him "A.C." Only his mom called him Allan. - PHOTO BY NICOLA HAUBOLD
Call him "A.C." Only his mom called him Allan.
Photo by Nicola Haubold

Last month marked the 40th year Allan "A.C." Cohen — along with his frozen drinks, hot dogs, and wild white beard and hair — has been a fixture in Coconut Grove's Kennedy Park. The city is set to lay down rubber turf under the picnic tables alongside his white-and-yellow food truck, A.C.'s Icees, and celebrate his latest milestone with a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned by Miami Commissioner Ken Russell for the end of January.

A.C., who is 72, moved from Michigan to Miami in 1978 after vacationing here for many years. He received the city's first mobile vendor permit (he was arrested one year while waiting for it) and became an icon in a neighborhood perennially under threat of being razed and rebuilt by all-powerful moneyed interests. Nevertheless, he's now beginning to feel the rewards of a life well lived.

Most days, he wakes up around 3 or 4 a.m. and heads to a commissary kitchen where he squeezes countless cases of lemons and other fruits that form the base of his lemonade, cherry, and piña colada icees. The treats come in small ($3.50), medium ($5), and large ($7).

"My icees have always been the same," he says on a recent Tuesday afternoon while walking his dogs. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but we have made some improvements." The same is true for his hot dogs ($3), which are boiled Sabretts in natural casings, and tuna and chicken salad pitas ($4.50).

Among the changes are the addition of water purifiers and piping to the two massive machines that pump out ten gallons of juice at a time. After the juicing is done, the process of shuttling it to the truck begins, and it wraps up just as the first thirsty customers arrive. Then it's a frantic rush of dishing out drinks and hot dogs, posing for pictures, and catching up with regulars until the early evening, when he packs it all up and heads to his home in the South Grove while readying to do it all again the next day.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but we have made some improvements."

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As a Coconut Grove resident, A.C. harbors a constant suspicion of both local government's handling of development in the neighborhood and the developers who see its waterfront tracts of land as faucets of limitless cash.

"The money people are ruining what used to be a quaint little village, which isn't so quaint anymore," he says.

That said, Grovites in recent years have secured historic designations for properties slated to be torn down, divvied up, and turned into McMansions. What's more, A.C. can't deny he's become a multigenerational delight for many families, including some who live in the Grove.

"There are people now who come with their kids, who are in middle school, and they say, 'I came here when I was your age,'" he muses. "The kids can't believe it."

He regularly runs into customers he hasn't seen in ten, 15, or 30 years, and they'll chat as though they hadn't missed a day. Tourists from Germany, South Korea, and France stroll up to the truck to say they saw his face on a T-shirt back home and had to try his icees while they're in Miami.

At the same time, A.C. has a kind of push-pull relationship with modern business and media. His truck remains a cash-only operation.

"I don't have time for stuff like that," he says. "I work long days, and I just want to keep it simple."

Such a mindset would make one think he'd eschew social media, but a few teenage customers got him onboard several years ago when he noticed them taking pictures of themselves and their lemonades. Recently, his Instagram feed has been populated with photos of monthly trips to the Caribbean, to which A.C. is treating himself after decades of work.

"I didn't grow up poor, but I never had anything handed to me," he says. Today he has about four employees who keep the operation churning along. "I don't think you truly appreciate the value of things when stuff is handed to you rather than when you have to bust your ass. So, to me, everything that's happened here is truly special."

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson