September 13, 2000

The End of an Era?

Print More

When Eisenhower was president, it was there. In the days when female Cornell students had curfews, the conspicuous red and white truck cast its fluorescent glow late into the night.

The Hot Truck is as much a part of Cornell tradition as the clock tower. But after 40 years of all-nighters, its owner and founder, Bob Petrillose, has handed over the keys.

Albert Smith ’72, owner of the Short-Stop Deli in downtown Ithaca, will carry on the task of feeding hungry Cornellians from the Stewart Avenue locale.

Petrillose sold his establishment and rights to his recipes to Smith this past weekend. For the next few weeks, Petrillose will continue to assist Smith and his helpers in a training capacity.

Reflecting on his venture that began in March 1960, Petrillose had fond recollections. “I had a great job out here. Everyone treated me great, and the customers were more than patient. I love them. They trained me,” Petrillose said.

He plans to spend more time with his family and looks forward to working on his car collection which includes a ’58 Packard, a rare automobile.

When he first opened “Johnny’s Pizza on Wheels,” Petrillose had little success serving pizza of the traditional fare. “Some nights I felt like I could throw the whole thing in the gorge,” he said.

But when Petrillose followed the suggestion of his wife Sharon, and took extra French bread from his father’s restaurant, Johnny’s Big Red Grill, his signature dish was born.

Petrillose soon after adopted the name “Hot Truck” to differentiate his establishment from his Stewart Ave. neighbor, Louie’s Lunch.

“Louie’s Lunch came down on West Campus from 1962 to 1981. He only served cold sandwiches, so he was known as ‘cold truck’ and I came up with ‘hot truck,'” he explained.

Petrillose feels satisfied that Hot Truck will be in good hands. Smith’s 30-year old son, Mike, will be at the truck nightly. “I’m very excited,” Smith said, noting he is the same age as when Petrillose started his business.

The Smiths don’t plan to make any immediate changes to the Hot Truck menu or its prices. But Hot Truck loyalists may find some new additions in the coming years.

“Down the road we want to sell some Short Stop subs [and] we’re going to try to work the PMP [poor man’s pizza] and MBC [meatball and cheese] into our downtown menu,” Smith said.

Many students are saddened by Petrillose’s departure. “I’ve been coming here since freshman year. Bob’s a good guy,” Rob Cossin ’03 said, biting into his wet garlic and cheese. Cossin added that he thought Petrillose “should give lectures here.”

While most freshmen will not have the opportunity to get to know Petrillose, a new band of loyal Hot Truck patrons is slowly forming. “I’ve been here a couple of times, but I definitely see it as becoming part of my routine,” Cedric Hodgeman ’04 said.

Archived article by Ken Meyer