When life handed Allan Cohen lemons, he quite literally made lemonade. For more than three decades, Cohen has parked his white A.C.'s Icees truck — painted with a cartoon of his distinctly wild hair and beard — in
"People come here because they know I'll always be here," Cohen says. "I've spent years trying to make this the best thing in the world."
The Detroit native began vacationing in Miami in the '60s and spent time in 1968 in Coconut Grove. As a long-distance runner, he later came to know the area well. He'd wake up early in the morning and meet his friends at Kennedy Park (2400 S. Bayshore Dr.) to start and finish his races. In 1978, he decided to make his vacation spot a permanent home. "I used to come here for vacation," Cohen says. "I had three months off because I worked in the swimming pool industry. Progressively, the vacations got longer and longer, and then I just stayed."
He loved running in the Miami heat but noticed a big problem at Kennedy Park: There was never anything to drink when he and his friends crossed the finish line. That's how the idea for A.C.'s Icees came to be.
"When I moved down here, I knew I had to work eventually, but not right away," Cohen says. "I had worked hard up in Michigan, so I bought myself some time. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but one day, when I came to the park, I decided this would be my next office."
Cohen says it took almost two years for him to get the proper licensing to sell his lemonade at Kennedy Park. He had a letter from the Parks and Recreation Department but had to fight for a concession contract allowing him to sell food and drinks in a public place. Eventually, he received the first mobile concession permit in the area.
Since then, he has stayed put in Kennedy Park. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., even Christmas Day, he's the only person allowed to sell anything within his favorite park. Visitors can purchase a small ($3.50), medium ($5), or large ($7) frosted lemonade, cherry lemonade, or piña colada. "I'm at work usually at 4 or 5 in the morning, freshly squeezing the lemonade," he says.
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Today, Cohen caters to a community that craves simplicity. Children come with their parents, teenagers come with their friends, and office workers come with their briefcases. For a moment, everyone under Miami's sun becomes one and the same.
"When people leave Miami, they are surprised to see that I've stuck around, but are happy to know that I can always be the first stop on their way home."
Cohen tried running mobile food trucks for a while but decided to concentrate on his original spot. He has become an icon in the Grove. On A.C.'s Icee's 30th anniversary, the city of Miami gifted him with a stone seat to celebrate his service. More recently, in April, Mayor Tomás Regalado congratulated Cohen for being a notable figure in the community.
But he's quick to deflect the official praise. "All I want is to keep things simple," says Cohen, who still refuses to accept credit cards at his stand. "Nothing in this city is simple anymore."