The population of Door County, a peninsula in Northern Wisconsin, is only about 28,000. Nonetheless, the county generates around $280 million in tourism revenue each year, or $10,000 in tourism dollars per capita. It’s safe to say that Door County is tourism central for Wisconsinites.
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, located in Sister Bay, a tourist-packed Door County town, takes full advantage with an eye-catching sight on the exterior of the restaurant that pulls in passing tourists. The grassy roof is covered with goats. Every summer day, tourists flock around the building’s exterior to photograph, smile, and laugh at the prancing creatures.
It all started in 1973, when the Johnson family decided to renovate the restaurant to look like a log cabin, with a sod roof on the top and all materials coming straight from Norway.
Noticing this, Wink Larsen, a friend of the owner, half-jokingly remarked, “you should put a goat up there.” After weeks and weeks of prodding, Larsen took matters into his own hands and hauled Oscar, a big Billy goat, all the way up to the roof. Despite Larsen ultimately tumbling over backwards and breaking his collarbone, his actions got the Johnson family to take his plan seriously.
Suddenly, the Johnson family began importing goats straight from Scandinavia. To this day, they’re kept at an expansive, 40-acre farm just three quarters of a mile from the restaurant.
Every summer day, the goats are led up a wooden ramp into the back of a pickup truck, and when they arrive at the restaurant minutes later, they eagerly scamper onto the roof.
Why wouldn’t they? The roof of Al Johnson’s is a verdant pasture and the curvature of the ceiling makes for a perfect rolling hill. The goats eat above while the tourists dine on Swedish meatballs made daily at Al Johnson’s below.