Much-loved Verrecchia ice cream van man Alan Miles has died. The king of the cones was 76.
One of the stalwarts of an Italian family business dating back 83 years to 1937, Alan had worked for the company for some 20 years and could often be seen in one of its liveried vans in various parks practising “serv-ice with a smile.”
He was particularly well known in Sutton Park and Cannon Hill Park, where the company’s perfect pitch was next to the boating lake outside MAC Birmingham
The country’s most visited free attraction outside London in 2017, the Midland Arts Centre has been a popular destination for families for more than half a century but is sadly remaining closed all year and currently has staff on notice of redundancy.
Boss Dean Verrecchia went round to Alan’s council flat on Monday to check how Alan was and saw him slumped on the sofa as if asleep.
Unable to raise Alan and fearing the worst without having a key, Dean said: “I had to call the police and ambulance to confirm everything.
“I just hope he died peacefully.”
Dean said he had managed to contact family members elsewhere, while the coroner was not expecting to reveal the cause of death until next week.
Alan’s last known whereabouts
Dean said Alan had previously worked in the Jewellery Quarter and had driven a seven tonne vehicles before joining Verrecchia.
“Alan had no family around here so lots of us were in regular contact with him,” said Dean.
“He was so sprightly and active and moved around in various circles, loads of people knew him.
“I last spoke to him on Saturday evening and Alan would often go to the Black Eagle in Hockley on a Sunday.
“When nobody could get hold of him on Sunday we just thought he’d had a few beers.
“I tried calling him on Monday morning and thought perhaps his phone had run out of battery.
“So I then went round to his flat to check if he was all right.
“We’d all try to speak to him every day because he was a man with such energy.
“He was a single chap with no kids, but always lived life to the full.
“With our ice cream vans, you need to be out on the pitch by 11am on a sunny day to be all set up, and then you might not get home till 9pm, 10pm and then have to clean everything down for an hour ready to start again.
“The job can be really hard work, but Alan was a really hard worker himself and a very nice character.
“He knew all the ins and outs of being an ice cream van man and had a great rapport with parents as well as children.
“He loved his job with us and our full range of ices, too.
“If Sam wasn’t in Cannon Hill Park, then Alan would go and fill in for her.”
Back in March 2016, I spotted Alan rocking up in Cannon Hill Park again for the start of another season and decided to find out what made him tick.
“As long as you don’t over freeze it, you’ll get good, soft ice cream,” Alan told me.
“We’re one of the few companies to wrap our cones in serviettes, I can tell you that.
“But I can’t tell you the ingredients – that’s our big secret!”
Why is the Verrecchia name so famous in Birmingham?
Company founder Severo Verrecchia was born in Glasgow to Italian parents.
He moved to Birmingham in 1937 and opened a Verrecchia’s ice cream shop in Spring Hill, Ladywood.
Always known as Sid to his friends, Severo went on to launch the city’s first proper ice cream van.
The days of Verrecchia making ice cream ended when their premises were torched in 1971.
But the company continued to ride the twin challenges of the ups and downs of Britain’s economic and weather climates by buying in quality ices from McNab’s in Garretts Green, which it still does to this day.
Severo was 93 years old when he died within five hours of the death of his only son Tony on March 11, 2005,
Now based in Houghton Street, West Bromwich, the company is run today by Tony’s son Dean and his daughter Lisa’s husband Carl.
Verrecchia has five vans and permanent, licensed pitches including Cannon Hill Park and Sutton Park and Dean hopes they will be back in action next year with their self-employed sellers back in business too.
A different year
For the first time in Dean’s 40-year career, the Verrecchia vans have not been out in the city’s parks this year.
Dean said there had delays sorting out the company’s permits in February and then the next thing the pandemic had taken over.
Now looking forward to returning in 2021, Dean said: “It’s been really frustrating not to be able to get out into the parks this year because of the licensing issue, especially as the weather has been so good.
“You can count on a few fingers when the weather has been really wet which is always the worst thing for us.
“But we’ve kept our wholesale business going which is open from 9am to 4pm seven days a week so it feels like I’ve been having a gap year.
“We will see what next year brings for the vans because you can’t beat the soft ice cream, which you just can’t keep at home.
“While we’ve always had park pitches, the move to electric vehicles could hit the street-vending part of the industry because nobody would be able to keep going and to be able to power the machinery for more than two hours without recharging.
“Although our vans are diesel, when we get to parks we can switch the engines off and plug the machines directly into the mains, so it’s all very efficient in that sense and we are looking forward to returning next year.”