Ezra Magazine Photo essay

Robert C. Petrillose Sr., known to generations of patrons at Cornell

For thousands of Cornell students and alumni who have been shivering in line at the Hot Truck, a legend has passed. the "Hot Truck Bob," died Dec. 8 in Elmira. He was 77. For 40 years until his retirement in 2000, Petrillose owned and operated the Hot Truck on Stewart Avenue, where he served hot subs seven nights a week from 10 p.m. until as late as 5 a.m.

Hungry, stressed-out college students relished the taste of the quirky menu items that were Hot Truck staples. To name a few: the Poor Man's Pizza, the MBC (French bread with two homemade meatballs, tomato sauce and cheese) and the Krazy Korean (garlic bread with homemade hot sausage, mushrooms, hot peppers and onions).

Remembrances of Petrillose and the Hot Truck piled up on Facebook (the group Johnny's Hot Truck, created by Dan Milstein '91, with 1,534 members and counting) and were posted on an alumni affairs tribute page.

Included here are just a few of the tributes to Petrillose offered by former students, customers and co-workers. An alumni memorial service for Petrillose is being planned for Reunion Weekend in June.

"I was so foolish as to freshman that my first Hot Truck sandwich was actually a cold sub, just because I did not want to wait (How embarrassing!) But I quickly mended my ways and became a big fan of TMBC Pep and the Ra Ra G & G, which often served the comfort food when the pressures of my studies were wearing me out. I guess Bob never held my initial mistake against me, because I later had the privilege of waiting inside the truck on many cold winter nights, chatting with Bob and handing him fresh bags of bread when I called them. He was the hardest working man I've ever met - and one of the friendliest, too.



"I started working for Bob during my senior year at Cornell, and whether it was a hot evening in August or a cold night in December I always arrived at West Campus with to smile As we would work side by side, he would share stories about his life, from his start to his father's restaurant to raise his children with his wonderful wife.


p> Erik Lehmann '95 with Bob. See larger image

"Bob had the most disarming smile I've ever seen. It could make the coldest Ithaca night a few degrees warmer. What amazed me most is that everyone got his smile. If you arrived to the truck after we cleaned everything and started the engine, I would smile, turn on the ovens and make you a sandwich exactly how you wanted it. If you did not do it well on a prelim as you would have hoped, I would smile at you and say, 'I know you're a smart person, you'll show' em next time. ' at the Palms, I would smile and know that MBC was just what you needed. "

- ERIK LEHMANN '95, who worked on the truck for seven years and then moved to Boston to open PMP: The Original French Bread Pizza

Ezra Magazine Photo essay

"Bob was a great man. He was only selling sandwiches, but I have handed out so much more. ... [He] will be missed, but I take a part of him wherever I go. "



"What I remember most about Bob was his unfailing sense of fairness. The truck was often mobbed, and the customers never formed any kind of organized line. But Bob always knew who showed up when, and if you tried to call out an order before someone else who had been waiting longer than you, I would ignore you until I determined that it was your turn. I still do not know exactly how I did that, but I managed to teach all of us about the meaning of fair play and honesty.


p> "I'll remember Bob more for his kindness and generosity than for the delicious late-night meals he provided. Bob always welcomed my friends and me into the truck on a cold night, asking about our recent adventures and the general state of our lives. Bob had a twinkle in his eye and frequently provided us with a good laugh. He was even kind enough to provide a ride home to our fraternity in the Hot Truck one night after one of my friends had injured an ankle. 'Hold onto the handle,' we were instructed, as he slowly wound his way down Cayuga Heights Road in the early morning hours. Thanks, Bob, for the memories. "


" Sometimes, when I was on a shoestring budget, it was all I could do to scrape up enough cash for a classic PMP (with pep / mush, of course), and when I was a little more flush at weekends, I'd get the WGC (for the garlic lover). Hot Truck was a warm and delicious oasis on cold Ithaca nights, and Bob always welcomed those of us who waited inside his truck, lured by the great smells and the chance to see Bob work his magic. I'm sure Hot Truck has a special route in heaven! He will be missed.



"Back in the winter of 1993, Cornell closed for the first time in decades due to a massive snowstorm. More than two and a half feet of snow fell, and when Sunday came around, the snow finally stopped, and it was time to begin digging out. I'll never forget walking over to Bob and Sharon's house on Pleasant Grove Road with 20 of my KDR brothers. Everyone chipped in to shovel their long driveway while Bob and I began making subs in the truck. I'm not sure who was more appreciative - my brothers, who got to have Hot Truck for dinner - or Bob, for helping him get out of his driveway so that he could be at his usual spot on Stewart Avenue. What amazed me about that day was how important it was for Bob to be out that night. It was not about missing a night of business - it was about being there to serve the students.


"One cold clear night in February 1967, I remember a most spectacular aurora borealis display visible in the sky. I just noticed it while lined up, waiting to get into the Hot Truck.


"A whole lot of Cornellians for over 40 years, from the 1960s to 2000, who would not know each other if we overcame them on the sidewalk, all with the same memories. At Cornell, I met and was taught by Nobel winners (Hans Bethe), famous rock-star astronomers (Cark Sagan and Frank Drake) and even one of the two guys who built the first jet engine (Dennis Shepherd). But one of the fondest memories we ALL have (from all those years) will always be one's standing in the snow waiting and talking to Bob. Takes a good man to affect that many folks. RIP, my friend. "


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