At a school where the faces across campus change at a rapid pace, one would be hard pressed to find an institution that has more consistently or significantly played a role in Cornell student life during the past several decades than the Hot Truck.
It’s no surprise then that current Cornell students and alumni are mourning the loss of the founder and longtime operator of the Hot Truck, Robert C. Petrillose Sr., who was known around campus as “Hot Truck Bob.” Petrillose died on Dec. 8 in Elmira, N.Y. after a battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 77 years old.
Petrillose started his career at the family-owned Johnny’s Big Red Grill in Collegetown. While working as the chef and manager of Johnny’s, Petrillose started his pizza truck business in 1960.
For the next four decades, Petrillose made three-letter acronyms — like PMP (poor man’s pizza) and WGC (wet garlic bread and cheese) — famous across campus as the Hot Truck became the go-to place for late-night food for the Cornell community.
“Bob had an amazing work ethic; in four decades he missed only a handful of nights,” according to his memorial website. “Cornell students trusted him as a confidant, and he would listen as they chatted about their personal lives, commenting, joking and offering advice — all while a crowd of customers patiently waited outside.”
Petrillose was also one of only a few non-Cornell students to have been inducted into the Quill and Dagger Society, according to the University.
With the Hot Truck, Petrillose created a phenomenon that has become an important part of the unique Cornell experience. The Hot Truck has long been a part of campus culture in its permanent location on West Campus. Ordering a PMP from the Hot Truck is listed as one of The Sun’s “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do.”
Over the years, the Hot Truck has also attracted attention from outside of Cornell. The concept of a French Bread Pizza that Petrillose created caught on, as his idea was sold to Stouffer’s and inspired several Cornell alumni to start a restaurant in Boston.
Since Petrillose’s retirement in 2000, the Hot Truck has been owned and operated by Shortstop Deli. However, Petrillose established a strong legacy at Cornell and memories of him and the Hot Truck remain strong.
Since news broke last week of Bob’s death, members of the Cornell community have flooded the Cornell alumni website, several Facebook pages and other websites with fond memories of “Hot Truck Bob.”
“I’ve missed Bob and the magic of his Hot Truck for many years now,” wrote Eric Braun ’87 on the Cornell alumni website. “His was an experience no marketer could create. Cornell has many stars that touch students’ lives, but few that have done so as broadly and viscerally as Bob.”
“Bob remembered everybody,” wrote Richard Ekstrom ’66, “The Hot Truck was outside my dorm my freshman year. [I] must have had at least 100 pizzas that year.”
“Hot Truck and Bob were an integral part of my Cornell experience,” wrote Chris Saxman in a post to the Hot Truck Facebook group. “Bob became a good friend to our house, and you could often find some of us chatting with him as he made those wonderful sandwiches. Here’s to a True Gentleman.”