Marine Parade in the 1970s. Credit: Philip Rosz
Rossi's Ice Cream: 1950s and 60s
In 1959, Patricia Volante was in Southend High Street looking for a Saturday job. She’d had no luck at Woolworth’s and then she spotted a ‘Vacancies’ sign at Rossi’s. This, she explains, was her ‘sliding doors moment’. Within minutes, she was handed an overall and whisked behind the counter. Little did she know at that time that years later she would become a Rossi herself. In 1971, she married Fernando Rossi (Agostino and Anna’s son).Rossi’s High Street kiosk. Credit: Philip Rosz
Patricia remembers clearly the sounds of the cafe - “the noise of the steam as the milk was heated, the clink of the cups, and the ‘kerching’ of the till, the general din of the people chatting.” There was a definite knack to making the perfect Rossi cornet. The ice cream needed to be the right texture and the art was to loop the ice cream over the cone with a flick of the wrist for the perfect serving. As the staff got to eat those that weren’t right, they did make a few mistakes on purpose!
Rossi’s made a raspberry syrup that was unlike anybody else’s. This formed the base of the classic Knickerbocker Glory and Peach Melba. Only vanilla was served for a long time. In the 1960s, strawberry was introduced which could be served as a strawberry-vanilla combo which looked rather like striped toothpaste. There was also the memorable lemon sorbet.
Southend High Street wasn’t pedestrianised at this time and it was buzzing. There would be waves of people throughout the day stopping for coffee and snacks. Throngs of people were out in the evenings and they’d call in to Rossi’s before and after the cinema in particular. Patricia paints a vivid picture of Saturday evenings when she and her colleagues would “slip into our winkle picker shoes” and head to the cinema. They’d always grab a seat at Rossi’s afterwards to discuss the film over a drink.
Particularly in summer, day-trippers flocked to Southend and they’d stop for an ice cream before heading to the beach. The influx of people when a train came in was notable and the queues for ice cream would snake out of the door.
Rossi's Ice Cream: Late 1960s And Beyond
This changed significantly when colour TVs and package holidays became popular. The post-cinema wave of customers diminished and day trips to Southend went out of favour with the lure of affordable destinations overseas. Southend High Street was also changing with the top end becoming pedestrianised. For these and other reasons, Fernando decided to close the Temperance Bar and Milk Bar in 1969. This left the seafront shops which were run by Pietro Rossi and his family. That same year, they opened the High Street kiosk which proved very popular. They served the ice cream from stainless steel tubs with a traditional scoop.
To meet the demand for ice cream, the Rossi’s had a factory built in 1967, situated on Lucy Road, Southend. From there, they’d send out fleets of ice cream vans and sold tubs of ice cream that could be taken home. They branched into ice lollies and novel alternatives to cornets, such as the ‘oyster’ and ‘screwball’ (ice cream with bubble gum at the bottom).
Another memorable moment for the family was in 1983 when Maria Rossi (then Fantauzzi,) was invited onto the popular TV show, The Generation Game, to demonstrate how to serve an ice cream on a cone with a spatula.
The family continued to run the Rossi's ice cream business until 2007.
Rossi's Ice Cream: Present Day
These days the Rossi name lives on and it continues to sell ice cream from a vast number of establishments, including the Southend seafront shop that has been open since 1932. However, it is no longer in the Rossi family having been sold in 2007. The Lucy Road factory, the Westcliff kiosk and the Marine Parade shop closed.
Rossi’s now operates from modern industrial premises at Temple Farm in Southend. The company’s Managing Director, Colin Gray says, “Rossi Ice Cream continues to go from strength to strength and the move is down to many factors as we continue to take the business forward whilst still maintaining the Rossi heritage.”
The new premises allow the company to upscale and cater for the considerable demand for Rossi products, both wholesale and retail.
Alongside the traditional Rossi flavours (still based on Agostino’s traditional recipe), the company has produced a multitude of new ones. In 2016, the company introduced the first black ice cream (a UK first) which caused quite a stir and shows that the company continues to innovate.
Where: 2-4 Marine Parade, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 2EJ
More info: rossiicecream.com
Next Generation: Poco Gelato Ice Cream
Ice cream production is still in the Rossi family today. Agostino Rossi’s great grandchildren, Lucy and Joe Donnelly, set up their ice cream company, Poco Gelato on Elm Road, Leigh-on-Sea, in 2012. Their delectable ice cream is produced in small batches using the traditional method akin to their ancestors’ style. Each pan is infused and churned by hand.
Poco Gelato ice cream is made with organic milk and ingredients. It’s not just exquisite classic ice cream and sorbets on the menu though, they have developed delicious vegan ice cream that are made from scratch too.
The array of flavours on offer changes frequently so each visit offers a surprise. The team love to experiment with flavours on their endless search for new taste combinations. They’ve created over 1000 different flavours so far and there are many more to come. From the exotic black sesame or mango tamarind to the more homely cereal milk or clotted cream, there is something for everyone - the problem is having to choose between them.
Poco Gelato isn’t just for its local customers who frequent the scoop shop regularly. The company supply top restaurants in London and around the UK too.
Where: 54-56 Elm Rd, Leigh-on-Sea SS9 1SN
More info: pocogelato.co.uk