Ann Froelich Riccio has won plenty of battles in her 99 plus years, but these days life is pretty tranquil, and that’s the way she likes it.
Her family owned Froelich’s in Glenville for more than half a century, and while the place has been out of her hands for a while now, a few friends and family will be celebrating her 100th birthday Wednesday at the Route 50 tavern, known today as the Bayou Cafe.
A long-time Niskayuna resident who now lives off Middleline Road in the town of Ballston, Riccio and her husband, Albert Harold Riccio, ran the place into the 1980s before retiring. During that time Ann also worked in the payroll department for the General Electric while Al worked for the American Locomotive Company. Through it all, Ann survived a terminal diagnosis of colon cancer back in the 1960s as well as a heart problem nearly 10 years ago. As for her longevity, Riccio has two possible explanations.
“Good health, I guess,” she says, smiling. “And, I’ve also had a glass of wine every day at 4, since I was at least 18.”
In between beating her cancer diagnosis – she was told she had three months to live – and her heart problem, Riccio also won a legal fight with some pretty shady characters that were claiming she and her husband didn’t own Froelich’s.
Ann’s mother, Tressa Froelich, shown here behind the bar, ran the family tavern with her husband, Ferdinand (Fred), for many years. (Schenectady County Historical Society)
“She held the mortgage but another guy, not a very nice person, was running the place,” remembered Anita Riccio, Ann’s daughter. “Her name had been erased from the deed so she had to sue. She went up against the bank in Scotia and organized crime and she won. She got through all that and then sold it to the current owner, who we love.”
It was Ann’s parents, Ferdinand (Fred) and Theresa (Tressa) Froelich, who owned and ran the place for decades, through Prohibition (1920-1933) and into the 1970s.
“It was their house, but they ran it as a speakeasy,” said Anita Riccio, whose only other sibling, Albert Jr., lives in North Carolina. “There were always raids, at places like Kristel’s and Shady Lane on Route 50, but the police really liked my grandparents so they would call them and warn them. They didn’t warn the other places.”
Just a few years before the Froelichs bought the building on Route 50 in Glenville, their daughter Ann was born on July 12, 1917.
“I was born in Bellevue in Schenectady, in my parents’ house, which wasn’t too far from Van Corlaer School,” remembered Riccio, who recently attended her great grandson’s high school graduation from Ballston Spa. “We moved to Glenville when I was a young girl and I graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in 1935.”
Ann Froelich Riccio remembers that her mother was born in Hungary, her father in Austria, and that they both came to this country sometime soon after the turn of the 20th century. When Ann and her husband, Al, a Schenectady native who died in 1991, took over running the tavern, they put their own particular touch on the place. Froelich’s became known for being a Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake teachers’ hangout, it’s long shuffleboard table, and a jukebox with mostly country music.
Chuck Fogg grew up on Route 50 right next to Froelich’s during the 1960s..
“I remember that a lot of teachers went there because it had off-road parking,” remembered Fogg, whose family business, Fogg’s Automotive, was on the corner of Heckeler Drive and Route 50 for years before moving to its current location a bit farther north to the corner of Route 50 and Hetcheltown Road. “They could all park in back and nobody would know they were tipping a few.”
Fogg, his younger brother John, and the neighborhood gang used to play football in Froelich’s backyard.
“We mowed the south side of their property, so we turned what was a hayfield into a football field,” said Fogg. “The one end zone was next to their chicken coop, and you had to be careful if you were throwing a pass not to lead your receiver too far. You didn’t want to lead him into the chicken coop.”
Fogg, a 1970 graduate of BH-BL, remembers Tressa Froelich more than he does Ann.
“The grandmother was short, and she wore that old European dress style, with a lot of flair and the thick stockings and those black shoes,” he said. “When I was a kid I can remember her being outside on a ladder washing the windows dressed like that.”
Fogg isn’t old enough to remember the peacocks that Fred and Tressa Froelich used to raise in the chicken coop, but Anita Riccio, a 1959 graduate of Niskayuna, can, and she also fondly recalls another animal who was a welcome visitor to the restaurant.
“There was a lady named Harriet who would bring her cat in a box,” said Ricco, pointing to one of her mother’s paintings showing the interior of Froelich’s, and the women with her cat in a box. “They also had a man from the county home who would come with his paintings so he could drink for free. They had some characters, but Grandma didn’t put up with any trouble. She was only 4-foot-8 but if somebody had too much to drink she’d take ’em and push ’em out the back door.”
“Yeah, she would do that,” confirmed Ann Froelich Riccio, who still spends much of the summer at a family camp in Brant Lake. “But we didn’t have too much trouble. I don’t remember any real problems at all.”
As for celebrating the century mark on Wednesday night, Ann expects to get home early.
“But, you never know,” she says. “We’ll have to see how it goes.”
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Categories: Food, Life and Arts