Getting the scoop on how Minchellas became a seafront staple in Sunderland
Tucked away in the rocky hills of Italy - roughly 80 miles South East of Rome - lies the smallvillages of Valvori and San Michele in the Frosinone region.
Both tight-knit villages, where friends and family are everything: the home of the Minchellas and the Notariannis.
Around 1,500 miles away, two families connected by a shared heritage made Sunderland their home, both setting up businesses that brought a taste of Italy to the seaside. It was here that the Minchellas and the Notariannis became close, and how Sandra and Trevor eventually met.
“It was my husband Trevor’s grandfather, Guiseppe Minchella, who first came over from Italy to make a new life for his family in England. He had three sons and two daughters, and started the business from Fencehouses making ice-cream,” explains Sandra Minchella, who - now behind the counter of Minchella’s - was also once part of the Notariannis team that served fish and chips on the same premises.
“My grandfather, Benedetto, came to Scotland as a young boy, working for an Italian family with his uncle. My family were Notariannis, well-known in Sunderland for their ice-cream during the war. And our grandparents - mine and Trevor’s - became close friends through the Italian community in the North East, and their shared memories of Italy.”
“My grandparents eventually retired and moved back to Italy, but their six children remained in the UK. Some eventually moved away, but my mother and
her three brothers continued working in the family business here. It was my uncle who eventually took over the shop at Seaburn. When he decided to retire, Trevor and I bought it.”
Connected through their grandparents, Trevor - who sadly passed away four years ago - and Sandra met at family occasions, and quickly fell in love. They both carried on their families’ rich tradition, with their own ice-cream business in South Shields, where all four of their children worked and spent time, before taking on Sandra’s uncle’s shop on Dykeland Road, where it has stood since the 1950s.
“I’ve always been part of the family business. I remember being in the factory, and I used to go in when they were making ice-cream with a little cup - a teacup - and my grandmother would fill it. I just loved ice-cream. I think it runs through my veins, just like it did Trevor’s,” says Sandra.
“He worked in his family’s ice-cream business from being really young - and that was how it was with all our children. Fish and chips was new for Trevor, but I’d grown up in that too. And when we took over, we worked together - and made it work, and built it up slowly to what it is today.”
The Minchella’s had four children together - Michael, Paolo, Mario and Claudia - all working at Minchella’s from an early age, but it is their son Paolo who is the next generation of the family to take on the business, having been inspired by a visit to his family’s ice-cream factory as a school boy.
“I have always loved ice-cream and I am really proud of what my mam and dad have achieved. It means so much and I want to honour that, and make my dad proud. What we’re doing is a tribute to the hard work he - and my mum - put in, and I’m so thankful for everything my dad taught me.
“I always wanted to do this from being young,” says 33-year-old Paolo, who particularly loves the ice-cream part of the family business.
“Everyone loves ice-cream, children and adults alike. I love the family heritage and the fact that we’re serving something that is so loved.”
“What do you think when you go to the seaside? You think ice cream and fish and chips - and I hope when people think of Seaburn, they think of Minchella’s.”
“I love the Italian side to the family. We go to Italy every year, and it is great to be able to bring flavours and techniques that we have tasted or spotted in Italy back to home, back to Sunderland.”
The shared pride between the mother and son is something that beams as they speak.
“When my grandfather came to England, he brought my grandmother. She spoke no English at all,” explains Sandra.
“When they had children, my grandfather was conscious that they were ‘foreign’, and he would only let their children speak Italian in their home because he wanted them to be fully part of the community.
“By the time my parents got married, years later, the family were embedded in the community and had become popular. Theirs was one of the first big weddings after the war, and it was as though royalty were getting married with the number of people that were standing outside the church because there was no room inside. They had truly become part of the community.”
And, years on, this family business - which first arrived from Italy and has gone on to become part of Sunderland - is still playing a part in creating special memories for families who visit Seaburn.
“When my children were growing up, they would play on the beach right in front of a kiosk we had, so I could keep an eye on them while serving families visiting Seaburn. It was lovely, I wish I could go back to those days. And years on, I still serve families - and sometimes people that were once customers or that I worked with at Notariannis - and watch as they make their own memories at the beach.” says Sandra.
And Sandra’s love of the city, for her family business, and the role that it plays in creating memorable experiences for visitors is something that also inspires Paolo, the next generation of Minchella.
“I love Sunderland, and I especially love Seaburn.” says Paolo.
“As a little boy I was on the beach every day, so I have always loved it here and what it brings to the people by the sea. It’s a privilege to be part of the seaside in Sunderland, and it makes me so proud that people come to us when they visit.
“That we help people to make memories with their family that will last as long as the memories I - and my siblings - have here as a child. We serve our customers like they’re part of the family, and that is what Minchella’s is all about. Family.”