After more than 40 years of serving up his signature subs to crowds of Cornellians every night on Stewart Avenue, Robert “Hot Truck Bob” Petrillose Sr. is handing over the keys to his truck and passing on the Hot Truck legacy.
Petrillose said that pending some last minute legal details, tonight will probably be the last night he will officially own and operate the Hot Truck. However, he plans to stick around to make sure the transition goes off without a hitch.
“I’ve had more good days than bad over the years,” Petrillose said. “I’m sure they’ll be a tear or two at the changing of the guard.”
Albert and Cindy Smith, owners of Ithaca’s Shortstop Deli, will be the truck’s new owners.
“Bob and I have a verbal agreement that we will be buying the Hot Truck and carrying on the tradition,” Mr. Smith said.
According to Petrillose, the Smiths will keep the truck in its current location and will still serve the unique subs thousands of Cornellians have come to love over the years.
Smith’s son, Michael, who has lived in Ithaca all his life, has been training side by side with Petrillose for several weeks and will be running the day-to-day operations inside the Hot Truck.
Under the proposed agreement, the Smiths will not only own the Hot Truck itself, but will also hold the rights to Petrillose’s trademark sandwiches, which they will begin serving downtown at the Shortstop Deli.
“After we get the deal digested, we’re planning to make Hot Truck staples like the Sui and the PMP available at Shortstop 24 hours a day,” Smith said.
Hot Truck employee Rico Screpka ’02 said the unique Hot Truck environment was due more to Petrillose himself than to the sandwiches he serves.
“I really don’t think [having the subs at Shortstop] is going to be the same,” Screpka said. “With Bob being there, I hear stories I wouldn’t hear anywhere else.”
“Bob says that while he’ll enjoy not working, he’ll miss all the people,” Screpka added. “I think Bob’s attitude towards everyone is what makes him so unique.”
Many Cornell alumni cherish fond memories of Petrillose and the Hot Truck and come back to the truck year after year to visit and reminisce with a sub, Screpka said.
“I want to sell the truck to someone who will do it justice,” Petrillose told The Sun last April. “It’s been hard to find people who realize what they would be taking on.”
Once he has officially retired, Petrillose said he may travel in Italy with his wife of 48 years, who has been working with him in the truck full-time since 1983. Mrs. Petrillose said her husband was lucky because he truly loved his work.
“I’ve always gotten along,” he said. “The kids treat me great — it’s a good job.”
Smith stressed the importance of remaining true to the tradition established back in 1960 when Petrillose first parked the Hot Truck on Stewart Avenue.
The Hot Truck legacy began when Petrillose drove a pizza truck out of Johnny’s Big Red Bar and Grill, which was owned by his father, John Petrillose Sr., from 1919 to 1981.
After deciding to park his truck on the Cornell campus, Petrillose started selling pizza slices. Student business was good, but making an entire pizza inside the truck was just not practical.
One fateful day, Petrillose noticed some extra french bread lying around his father’s restaurant and the “Poor Man’s Pizza” (PMP) was born.
The french bread loaves covered in sauce and cheese were instant hits with Cornell students, who have lined up in front of the truck long into the night for a taste ever since.
“The main thing is that [the transition] is seamless and the tradition keep going on as it has,” Smith said.
Archived article by Katherine Davis