By Josh Brokaw | Ithaca.com
The Hot Truck may be soon doing something besides selling lots of its Triple Sui sandwich—the late-night institution might change its location, which, even though it’s a truck, it does very rarely.
Right now, the Hot Truck is parked on Stewart Avenue and pays $702 a year to the city for the location. Hot Truck, Inc. President Al Smith, also owner of Shortstop Deli, believes that a new Hot Truck will be required soon to replace the current 1984 model. This means more sales are required, since new food trucks cost somewhere in the range of $200,000 these days. Smith has decided that moving to the food truck parking spot designated at the corner of Eddy Street and Dryden Road will help business. He told the Board of Public Works in a letter sent last June he was willing to pay over $6,000 a year in permits for the privilege, if BPW granted the Hot Truck rights to be open all day, every day.
Lou Cassaniti, of Lou’s Hot Dog Stand, told BPW on March 23 that Smith and the Hot Truck should be granted any changes they want to make.
“I heard they’re seeking a change in location,” Cassaniti said. “I’m here to endorse them in anything they do … there’s no better business in town, no better people. We all should support them in whatever changes they want to make, which I’m not sure of.”
The city made food trucks parking on streets legal in January 2014. That legislation granted the Hot Truck a “heritage permit” for its location on Stewart Avenue that includes the right to have one permanent location.
After some internal discussions, BPW member Mark Darling told Smith in an email he “came away with the sense that the Heritage Permit’s conditions are for that truck in that location” on Stewart Avenue, though Mayor Svante Myrick had weighed in with his support in October.
Myrick explained his reasoning for supporting the move at the March 23 meeting.
“I understand we’re making an exception and making an exception makes all of us uncomfortable,” Myrick said. “Here’s why I think we should treat the Hot Truck differently. Because it’s a historic resource. I’m beginning to learn the more I’m in this job what a historic resource means. It’s an institution not because of where it is, but what it is.”
Smith told BPW that his Hot Truck started on Dryden Road in 1960 as Johnny’s Big Red Grill Pizza Truck. “The pizza, the subs, the truck serves, all started on Dryden Road,” Smith said.
Some members of BPW were under the impression that Smith might try to sell the Hot Truck after achieving a move in location.
“I will be president of Hot Truck, Inc. until they put me in the ground,” Smith told the board. “I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink, and my mother will celebrate her 97th birthday on April 1.”
Smith explained why the Hot Truck doesn’t move.
“We used to park in front of residential halls, and Cornell asked if there was anyway to do away with the compressor—they said, ‘we’ll work with you,’” Smith said.
When the current Hot Truck was purchased in the mid-1980s, then a electrical plug was installed; an outlet on a nearby pole has long supplied the Hot Truck’s power.
Though Smith said he was willing to pay for daytime hours, Myrick’s remarks sounded like the agreement he favors is for late-night hours only, every night of the week.
For anyone curious about the origins of the Hot Truck’s name, Smith had a story to tell BPW. Back in the 1920s, after Louie’s lunch trucks started running, the Zounakos family operated three trucks. Two of them rotated in 12-hour shifts—the third one didn’t have any power and served cold food and sandwiches across the street on Stewart Avenue. That was the Cold Truck.
“Eventually the cold truck went away, so you just had the Hot Truck.” •