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Cornell mourns the passing of one of its legends, 'Hot Truck Bob'

Robert Petrillose
Robert Petrillose, aka "Hot Truck Bob," makes a sandwich in this undated photo.

For thousands of Cornell students and alumni who ever stood shivering in line at the Hot Truck, a legend has passed.

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

To the Cornell community, Petrillose was a familiar and friendly figure on many a late night when a Hot Truck sub was the only thing that would satisfy. Hungry, stressed-out college students relished the taste of quirky menus items. To name a few: the Poor Man's Pizza (French bread with tomato sauce and cheese), 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 at the news of his passing. One alumnus described how, five years after graduation, he proposed to his girlfriend at the base of Fall Creek and took her to Hot Truck afterward to celebrate.

"Took [the subs] back to our room and had one of the most memorable meals ever. I've owned restaurants for nearly 20 years and I still look to Hot Truck as a model of efficiency and customer service -- Where else would you stand in a foot of snow for 90 minutes in the middle of the night?" he wrote.

Petrillose started his career in the family restaurant, Johnny's Big Red Grill in Collegetown, where he was the chef and manager until 1981. He started his pizza truck business in 1960 while continuing his work at Johnny's. In four decades, Petrillose only missed a handful of nights.

After closing up in the pre-dawn hours, he would drive his truck home and immediately begin cleaning it and scrubbing his pans until they shone. After a few hours of sleep, he would wake and start grinding cheese, processing sausage and preparing vast quantities of meatballs. In his spare moments, Petrillose enjoyed working on his collection of antique cars and boating on Cayuga Lake with his old wooden Chris-Craft cruiser.

In the late 1990s, Petrillose was inducted into the Quill and Dagger Society, a non-scholastic honor society recognizing exemplary Cornell undergraduates. Petrillose was one of just a few non-Cornell students to receive the honor.

Petrillose was born Nov. 17, 1931, the son of the late John W. Petrillose Sr. and Ruth Goff Petrillose. He was a lifelong resident of Ithaca until his retirement. Since that time, he and his wife of 57 years, Sharon Follett Petrillose, had lived in Elmira. He is survived by his wife, sister, brother, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

Friends are invited to call at McInerny Funeral Home at Water and Walnut streets in Elmira, Friday, Dec. 12, from 4 to 7 p.m. The funeral service will be held Saturday, Dec. 13, at 10 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 1054 W. Clinton St., Elmira. Interment will follow at noon in Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Ithaca.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to a scholarship, which can be mailed to The Robert C. Petrillose Scholarship Fund, c/o Tompkins Trust Co., Attention Sue Lason, P.O. Box 460, Ithaca, NY 14851.


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