Sister Bay Hosts Inaugural Roofing of the Goats Parade

Longtime Al Johnson’s employee Gunilla Wilson feeds Oscar, the first goat to graze on the grassy roof, in 1973.

When the late Al Johnson, founder of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, renovated the now-famous roof of the now-famous restaurant into grassy inclines in 1973, he never intended to put goats on the roof. But his friend Harold “Wink” Larson was adamant. “When dad was redoing the roof, his friend kept saying, ‘You oughta put a goat up there! You oughta put a goat up there!” recalls Al’s daughter Annika Johnson. “So, one day, unbeknownst to Al, Winky went and found a goat, and it was a big Billy goat – his name was Oscar.”

“He slung [Oscar] under his arm and carried it up a ladder,” continues Al’s son Rolf Johnson. “When he got to the top, the goat leapt to the first sure footing he saw and Winky went down backwards and I think he busted several ribs. And the goat stood there and looked down at Wink Larson and that’s how the whole thing really started.”

Since then, the restaurant, community, and beyond has embraced the goat as a symbol of Door County. “Al’s is the only restaurant that has goats on the roof in the U.S., they have a trademark,” says John Nelson, who helps market the restaurant. “It’s Sister Bay’s primary attraction – it vies for shoreline and, of course, we’ve all heard that one question that the tourists ask over and over. They don’t ask, ‘Where’s Al’s?’ They ask, ‘Where’s that place with the goats on the roof?’”

When the goats became a mainstay of Al’s, Swedish native Gunilla Wilson was working her third summer at the restaurant where she is still employed. “They are my second family,” she says of Al’s many employees, her Swedish accent still prominent. There is a photo of her on the roof with Oscar. “That was 39 years ago!” she laughs. “Things have changed since then, but it is still the same place.”

Gunilla served Al’s patrons with four other Swedish girls in the early ‘70s. “We had a fabulous time,” she recalls. “We lived together, were a tightknit group. It was not quite as busy as today.”

Goats will return to the famous roof of Al Johnson’s on May 11. Photo courtesy of Matt Normann Photography.

Now she works in the gift shop and is still amazed by how well the restaurant is known, how the goats seem to have cast a spell on visitors. “It’s interesting – people get really upset about the goats,” she laughs. “They will call and say, ‘We drove by and the goats weren’t up, is something wrong?’”

During the winter months, the goats reside at a farm owned by another of Al’s children, Lars Johnson. To mark their transition back to the roof, a sure sign that the season is underway, Sister Bay is hosting a goat parade on May 11 at 10:30 am.

“It’s hard to talk about without laughing,” says Paige Funkhouser, coordinator of the Sister Bay Advancement Association, who conceived the idea of a goat parade with John Nelson. “Al Johnson’s put Sister Bay on the map, and it started as being silly. We want to keep it light, something to hype us up for the season.”

“Al had a good sense of humor,” says Nelson. “We want to commemorate [the roofing of the goats] with something fun.” In the spirit of fun, the community welcomes goat owners to parade through Sister Bay with their [leashed!] goats. For those who do not have a goat, but still wish to participate – “We are encouraging levity,” says Nelson. Ideas: dress up like Little Bo Beep, Heidi, a Viking, or a goat. Al’s servers will parade beside the goats in their traditional dirndls. Wilson will be there as well. “Oh, it will be fun,” she laughs. “The goats are cute.”

Those who wish to participate in the parade are asked to line up on the corner of Mill Road and Highway 42 at 10:15 am. The parade will culminate with the Roofing of the Goats. Should there be poor weather, the parade will take place May 18.

For more information call 920.854.2812 or visit

To learn more about Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, visit