Albany, NY, September 2, 1999 -- People driving along Route 4 near Albany, New York are often shocked to see a bar called Mother's Roadhouse and Faith Community Church sharing the same sign. Those who stop will find a hell-raising honky-tonk, a helping hand, and, if you're there on Sunday, maybe even salvation. Fran Zyglewicz is the proprietor of Mother's, located at 8 Troy Rd. (Rte. 4) in East Greenbush, NY.
"Everyone is welcome, naturally, but the majority of the crowd here is a biker crowd," she says proudly. "I've spent my whole life in the tavern business!"
Her parents owned taverns in Oklahoma and Texas while she was growing up. Mother's, which Zyglewicz bought in 1992, isn't the first biker bar she's operated.
Zyglewicz was born in Arkansas. She moved to upstate New York in 1972 with then- husband, boxer David Zyglewicz, after his lungs were burned by toxic chemicals in a freak industrial accident in Texas in 1970. He'd been the Texas Heavyweight Boxing Champion for 10 years and lost a fight with Joe Frasier in 1968 for the World Heavyweight title.
"He had a successful career, but the accident shortened it; he would have had another shot at the title if he hadn't been injured," she says. Needing a steady income, they decided to buy a tavern and opened a place called Ziggy's Corner in Watervliet, NY in 1976 and ran it together until 1988. She became sole owner in 1989 and promptly renamed it Mother's. It became a hangout for local bikers. It did so well that in 1991 she opened a second Mother's in the city of Albany. It was popular with area bikers too. A year later she opened Mother's Roadhouse in East Greenbush. Zyglewicz operated all three until 1997.
"There were a lot of changes in the tavern business around that time," she says. "I was tired and getting older, and my children had other interests."
She closed the Albany tavern in July, 1997 and the Watervliet one in September of that year, but decided to keep the East Greenbush tavern open. The building was larger.
"It was more private and not too close to the neighbors," she said. There were also picnic areas and a stream on the 5.5 acre site, and lots of parking, something neither of the other sites had. "It was more of a country setting, which I loved, " she says.
Mother's Roadhouse became a gathering place for upstate bikers, since it was the only bar in the Capital District Region, which encompasses Albany and several neighboring cities, that catered to a biker clientele.
Over the years, Fran has earned a reputation as a humanitarian. She hosts approximately 15 benefits a year for a variety of worthy causes -- raising money for medical expenses for sick children and adults, holding toy drives for a local children's home, and raising cash for people who have been burned out of their homes or whose lives have been struck by tragedy.
"I'll do a benefit for anyone with a legitimate cause," she says. "If people are in need, they just have to let me know about it, and they'll get a benefit."
Fran often helps families of men and women who have been incarcerated, with needed food and clothing. "I come from a real small town, population 200, and everybody helped everybody. I carried it with me."
Zyglewicz said the first fund-raiser she was ever involved in was held in Bossier City, Louisiana and benefited a girl who had lost her home to a fire. She's been holding them ever since.
Fran can't say enough good things about the bikers who frequent her establishment. "If somebody's got a problem, the bikers will help them out; they're generous with their money and their time." Zyglewicz says most people have the wrong impression of bikers. "They're good people! They get along with everyone. I never held a benefit the bikers didn't turn out, big time, for. They'd give the shirt off their backs if someone needed it!"
Zyglewicz got into motorcycling when she was a young woman hitchhiking across Texas. She was picked up by a guy on a Harley-Davidson and rode from Odessa to Houston on the back of his bike. "From that day on, I've loved Harleys. Once you feel the wind in your hair and the freedom of the road, you're hooked," she explained. Though she doesn't own a motorcycle, she often rides with friends.
Though there are those in her upstate community that think it's strange for a church to hold services in a bar, Zyglewicz is quick to remind them that "the church is not the building, it's the people." Faith Community Church meets at her tavern every Sunday at 11 am.
"I knew these biker ministers who didn't have a church," she explained. They had been looking for a place to hold their services for several months. In December 1997 she offered them the use of her tavern. The first service was held there on the first Sunday of 1998. Reverend Jim Carter, a member of the Christian biker group the Melchizedeks, started the church. His fellow Melchizedeks, Reverends Nathaniel Waterman and Mark Catlin, now minister to members.
Zyglewicz describes Faith Community as a Christian church. Attendance varies from week to week. Zyglewicz says some weeks 50 people show up for services; other weeks there are less than 10. No alcohol is served on Sundays until the worship service has ended. The church has had one wedding so far, though Zyglewicz said there have been others performed at her bar in the past. She is very proud of the fact that 18 people have come to Christ and been baptized since the church started. New members are baptized in the Red Mill Creek which forms the boundary of Zyglewicz's property. The church also sponsors a Tuesday night Bible study, but it's held at member's homes, not the bar.
Mother's also has the distinction of once having a movie filmed there. A film company shot interior and exterior scenes for "Under Heat" at Mother's in 1993. Though the film has been shown overseas, it hasn't been released in the United States and Zyglewicz has yet to see her bar immortalized on film.
Zyglewicz says she does her best business during the New York State Helmet Rally which was held in May this year. During the event, bikers ride to the nearby State Capital to protest New York's helmet law. She says as many as 3,000 bikers from all over the state stop in at her place during the 4 day weekend.
Her business attracts out-of-staters as well. Bikers who attend AM-JAM, the American Motorcycle Jamboree held in Cobleskill, New York every year, and the Harley Rendezvous, which takes place in nearby Duanesburg, New York, often drop by. She said people hear about her place by word of mouth. In addition to the local rallies, she's met a lot of people at rallies she's attended in Daytona Beach, Florida and Laconia, New Hampshire, who stop by when they pass through the area.
Biker's organizations use Fran's tavern as a place to meet and conduct business. ABATE meets there every month. The group is concerned about laws that affect motorcyclists and works toward the repeal of mandatory helmet laws.
While attending the motorcycle rally in Daytona, Zyglewicz was impressed by a tree outside a local tavern that had been decorated with hanging motorcycles. She told all her customers about it and how much she liked it. They decided she should have a motorcycle tree of her own. So far, patrons have hung two motorcycles from a large willow tree on her property so far.
Zyglewicz wanted the bar to have a rustic look, so she used rough cut wood on the walls and decorated them with pictures of her biker clientele, photos of rallies, stickers of bands that have played there, and shirts from different biker clubs. It has everything a good tavern needs: two pool tables, a couple of arcade machines, a jukebox and a very large, well-stocked bar.
Though her menu is limited to hot dogs, personal pizzas and snacks, during the warm weather months she caters pig roasts, clam bakes, and picnics on her property. She also plays host to motorcycle rodeos where patrons can try their hand at her burnout pit.
Mother's Roadhouse operates 7 days a week. It opens at 4:00 pm Monday through Friday and at noon on weekends.
So if you're ever in the area, don't be afraid to stop by after a hard day on the road. The beer is cold, the place is rocking, and Mother will welcome you with open arms.