Meet Britain’s best ice cream man, who’s been selling 99s since he was FOUR

March 5, 2013 | by | 0 Comments

Supercool John has licked the competition again after being named as Britain’s best ice cream van man — for the second time.

John, 30, was just four when he first went out in the van with his dad, also John, and “knew the business inside out” by the time he was 10.

He bought his own van aged 15 and hit the road selling ice creams with his father as soon as he passed his driving test.

John Harkins who has been voted Britain's Best Ice Cream Van Man for the second time

John Harkins who has been voted Britain’s Best Ice Cream Van Man for the second time

Now he is celebrating being named British ‘mobiler’ of the year for the second time by the Ice Cream Alliance, the trade association which represents the £1billion ice cream industry.

John, of Wemyss Bay, Inverclyde, said: “Ice cream is in my blood. I first went out in the van with my dad when I was four or five and my boyhood dream was to have my own van.

“By the time I was 10 I knew the business inside out and I was getting itchy feet.”

The ice ace was a familiar sight as a youngster around the Di Murro ice cream depot in Greenock, where his parents ran their two vans.

He said: “I basically grew up around that place – it’s where my interest in ice cream vans began. They had the vans, a cash and carry, a body shop and mechanics garage and the ice cream factory/ dairy all in one place.”

The Di Murro ice cream depot in Greenock, where John's parents ran their two vans

The Di Murro ice cream depot in Greenock, where John’s parents ran their two vans

John with his first ever van in 1997 at the tender age of just 15

John with his first ever van in 1997 at the tender age of just 15

The enterprising youngster began making candyfloss and popcorn which he sold on to other ice cream sellers.

By the age of 15 he had saved up enough to buy a slightly battered 1979 Bedford van for “a couple of hundred pounds”.

He said: “It needed a fair bit of TLC and I finally set out on the road when I was 16. I loved the life and still do – it was what I was born to do.”

John, whose parents John and Susan still help him run Bay Ices in Wemyss Bay, went through two more vans before buying his latest hi-tech vehicle, which experts spent four months customising.

He currently covers about 20,000 miles a year and now travels as far as Wales to sell ices at rock festivals.

He said: “It’s more like a mobile factory.  There’s a self-pasteurising ice cream machine, a milkshake maker, a coffee machine – all sorts of equipment.

“It’s all about giving the customer what they want.  Kids like quite sweet ice cream , but if I am at an agricultural show with an older clientele I will make more Jersey ice cream.

“It’s difficult to compete with supermarkets on price so what I offer is a huge amount of variety – different ways of eating your ice cream, in dishes, floats, knickerbocker glories.

“I also have a huge array of sauces and sprinkles.  I’m dedicated to putting the fun factor into ice cream and putting a smile on people’s faces.

“The mobile ice cream business has had some difficult times but I hope my success can act as an inspiration to others.

“I’m also extremely grateful for the support of my customers.”

John won his first title in 2004  and said it was “a great honour” to win it again.

Zelica Carr, Chief Executive of the Ice Cream Alliance, the trade association which represent the £1billion industry, said: “John is an inspiration.

“Ice creams vans are such a big part of our national heritage and people like John have so much passion and commitment.

“He does a fantastic job and to have won the title for a second time is a great achievement.”

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