celebrating a sense of place

“Ice cream man!” The first kid on our street to spot him would spread the alarm like Paul Revere, and just as the minutemen of old we’d toss everything aside – whiffle bats, kick balls, street hockey sticks - and make a mad dash home, not for our muskets, of course, but for a handful of change. The ice cream man came rolling through our neighborhood the same time every afternoon in the summer, but for some reason we were never ready for him. “Tell him to wait!” I’d scream to my friends as I made the sprint down our long, curving drive at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Mom was a soft touch, but the Old Man was a different story. It wasn’t that he was cheap, he just didn’t get it.

“We have ice cream in the freezer,” he’d always say.

“It’s not the same,” I’d whine, until he finally forked over the quarter.

Dad didn’t understand that it wasn’t just about the ice cream, it was also about the experience. (Although we sure as heck wouldn’t have made that kind of effort for say, the lima bean or the liver man.) As if seemingly endless weeks of no school, and long days of summer fun weren’t enough, here comes a “good-humored” man in a gleaming, snow white suit and a matching truck that jingles, bringing Bomb Pops, Chocolate Eclair Bars, and King Cones, practically to your front door. He was like a summertime Santa that showed up every day, and he didn’t care whether you were good or bad, as long as you had that quarter. I’ll probably never relive those old summer days again (which is good in a way, I mean, no one wants to see a hefty 52-year old, grey-bearded man in cut-off husky jeans and a Mad magazine t-shirt riding a big wheel down their street), but I can still relive that old school, vintage truck, ice cream man experience, thanks to Joe Marazzo and family, of Delicious Ice Cream, LLC.

A retired senior energy company executive and chief operating officer with a master’s degree, and a BS in civil engineering, Joe Marazzo isn’t your typical ice cream man. He’s hawked his frozen wares from the streets of Staten Island to the silver screen, and though at one time it meant paying his way through college, he’s long since stopped having to do it for the money and now just does it for pure enjoyment.

“I guess there are three things I love,” he told us, “people, antique Chevy trucks, and ice cream.”

Above: Al Marazzo in 1977. Above Right: A hand-painted portrait of Al Marazzo adorns his 1950 Chevy Ice Cream Truck. Below: The third generation of Marazzo's get their turn behind the wheel.

“My mom’s still alive, she’s 96,” Joe told us. “She says, ‘My God, if your father was still around to see what you did,’ and his grandchildren got to know a little bit about their grandfather through the business.”

The business was an immediate hit. “By the second year I needed a second truck, by the third year I needed a third truck, the business just took off,” said Joe.

The Marazzo’s added a stunning 1955 Tropical Turquoise and White Chevy to their fleet which they named “The Princess,” and a chrome-laden, aerodynamic-styled 1948 Chevy, appropriately named “Dreamsicle.” Both trucks are fully restored, with much of the work being done locally by Somerset Hills Classics of Bernardsville. The trucks are also custom-painted, and the “Dreamsicle” includes a hand-painted portrait of Al Marazzo on the passenger side of the truck. The trucks have also been adapted to highway use. The Princess is powered by a 305 V8 mated to a 700 turbo transmission, while the Dreamsicle sports a 350 ZZ4 mated to a 350 turbo hydramatic  transmission – these aren’t your grandad’s ice cream trucks.

Both trucks are also equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems that play hits from the 50s and 60s. We were treated to Joe’s favorite ice cream, a toasted almond bar, as we grooved to The Del Vikings, Come Go with Me (1957) and Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl (1967).

“Everybody loves the music,” said Joe, who had just brought the Princess to a priest’s 50th anniversary party. “They loved the truck - they were taking pictures - they were dancing.”

According to Joe, while the kids still love the ice cream, it’s the adults who are really excited when he shows up, reveling in the nostalgia and admiring the trucks, all of which have taken top awards at car shows. (Our publisher couldn’t resist ringing the bell).

“People want to ring the bell all the time,” Joe assured her.

This year the youngest Marazzo graduated college and Joe and his wife, Jennifer, are on their own, serving up ice cream at parties, anniversaries and corporate events. With its unique color combination and chrome rockets on the hood, the Princess is the most customer-requested truck, but Al Marazzo’z 1950 Chevy is still the flagship of the trio. Completely original, and restored to its former glory, the truck is no longer used for events, although it did come out of retirement to serve a very special customer and make a cameo in a major motion picture.

“I get a call back in 2015,” said Joe. “A guy says ‘we want to rent one of your trucks for a movie…we want to rent the truck and bring it into the city for a day as a prop.’’’

 “Which truck do you want?” Joe asked him.

“We only want the white one.”

“That’s my dad’s truck,” he replied. “That truck doesn’t leave my sight. I go with the truck.”

“The guy called me back an hour later and he said ‘send us a picture of yourself.’ So I sent them a picture. They called me back they said ‘well, we’ll make a deal with you. We’ll hire you as the ice cream man.’ So we made the deal and I went Brooklyn.”

Joe ended up on the lot for “Bridge of Spies,” a historical drama legal thriller, set during the cold war, directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, and starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan and Alan Alda. Joe invited his daughter, who worked in the city, to visit the set, which was actually on a cordoned off street near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. While he was getting into costume, a seasoned union actor, who thought Joe was a fist-time actor, schooled him on set etiquette.

“Don’t talk to the big actors or the director,” he warned him.

Before they started shooting, Joe, knowing the union actor was watching, called out to Steven Spielberg,

“Hey Steven, come on over.  I want to show you my ice cream truck.”

“This guy gives me a look like ‘you’re fired that’s it!’ Spielberg starts to laugh, he says ‘I’m coming over and I want an ice cream.’”

The Academy Award-winning director insisted on a tour of the truck, asking all about its history, poking his head in the freezer, taking pictures with Joe and his daughter, and enjoying a candy center crunch. After the shoot, onlookers came streaming on to the street, many of them looking for Joe’s autograph.

“You don’t want my autograph,” he tried to tell them. But they were sure he had to be an A-list actor.

“That was Kate Hudson with you wasn’t it?” they asked. “You had your arm around her.”

“No, that was my daughter,” Joe explained.

“But you’re buddy-buddy with Stephen Spielberg. You must be somebody!” the crowd of autograph seekers insisted.

“No, I’m just the ice cream man,” said Joe.

Joe comes from an ice cream family dynasty started in 1953, by his father, Al Marazzo, a WWII veteran and Bronze Star recipient from Staten Island, New York, who supplemented his income from a job at the city’s water department, with an ice cream route. Al’s first truck was a 1948 Plymouth pick-up with a dry ice refrigeration unit on the back, but after two years (and a short hiatus from the business) he replaced the Plymouth with a 1950, cutaway ½ ton Chevy pick-up that was customized and fitted out with a cold plate refrigeration system. Originally built as a Peter Pan Ice cream truck, with green fenders and a picture of Peter on each side, Al transformed it into a “Howdy Doody” truck and began selling frozen treats along Staten Island’s north shore, throughout Westerleigh and Castleton Corners.

Joe Marazzo started accompanying his father when he was just three years old, sitting atop a refrigerated soda box in the open cab.

“My father would put a piece of wood across (the open door) so I wouldn’t fall out,” he said.

On nights when his dad would come home from his route and restock the truck, Joe would sit behind the wheel, eating an ice cream and dreaming of the day he would start driving the route. He even had an ice cream truck of his own, a Japanese friction toy modeled after a Good Humor truck. The company that manufactured the toy truck didn’t have licensing permission to use the Good Humor name and instead painted “Delicious Ice Cream” on the sides.

In the mid-1960s, as Howdy-Doody began to fade in popularity, Al had his truck re-painted white.  

“The artist came and the guy said ‘well, what do you want me to put on the truck?’ Joe recalled. “My father said, ‘I don’t know, here, here’s my son’s toy.’”

So, using Joe’s friction toy as a model, the artist emblazoned the real truck with the lettering from the sides of the toy truck and “Delicious Ice Cream” was born. 

Al suffered a heart attack in 1966, and turned the keys over to his oldest son, John, who drove the route until he left for graduate school. Joe finally got his turn in the spring of 1975, skipping his high school senior trip to rebuild the transmission and replace the clutch on the truck. He hit the summer streets on his own, competing with Good Humor men and Mr. Softees. Between senior year in high school and senior year at the New Jersey institute of Technology, he managed to build up a large enough route to pay 100% of his college education.

“People enjoyed the fact that I was working my way through college. I was an example for the young kids,” he said.

After his father passed away in 1981, Joe hung up his peddler’s license and eventually started a family of his own, but he kept the old 50 Chevy, working on it when he had the time, and taking his three children for rides in it when they were small. When he turned 50, his oldest son Christopher urged him to have the truck fully restored.

“He said ‘Dad for your 50th birthday, just send the truck out and get it done,’” Joe related.

“As it was being restored people were coming into the shop and saying ‘hey, will this guy be willing to rent this out for my wedding, will this guy rent this out for my bar mitzvah,’” said Joe. “We were just going to do car shows with it but I said to my son, ‘I’ll tell you what, why don’t we do this. I’ll put the truck back in business but we’ll only do private events like birthday parties and stuff like that. You’ll build a website, we’ll do a business case and I’ll teach you how to run a business and it’ll be as valuable for you as it was for me when I was your age.’”

Joe’s daughter Alyssa and younger son Tommy eventually became part of the enterprise and with a third generation of Marazzo’s behind the wheel, Delicious Ice Cream was reborn and Al Marazzo’s legacy continued.

The Delicious Ice Cream fleet.

To make your next event "cooler," call Delicious Ice Cream, LLC. at (908) 766-0468. deliciousicecreamllc.com

Steven Spielberg (left) with Joe and his daughter.

PROFILES


​​I'm Just the Ice Cream Man 

By Lee and Chris Wolfe
 Photos By Lauren Kearns