As you top the hill and head down the main street in Sister Bay, one can not help but get excited. For right in the middle of town, you will spot the goats on the roof at Al Johnson’s! This grassy roof and those goats have drawn tourists and locals alike. An icon for visitors for over 58 years, Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant has a rich history in this town and county!
Back in the early days, Al was “chief cook and bottle washer.” He did it all. Friends remember a time when he’d serve the breakfast, clean-up the kitchen, and then hang a “Gone Fishin’” sign on the door and head out for an afternoon break, before reopening for the dinner hour! To many of his local, lifelong buddies, “those were the good old days!” Coffee flowed, the talk was rich, and tall tales abounded. Life in the county was more laid back…it was a different time!
Then, in 1960 Al met who was to be his future wife, Ingert. She was the one who helped change and shape the interior décor of the restaurant. With a flair for style, plus deep roots in Scandinavian heritage and design, she felt it necessary to keep the look of the place very traditional. Ingert’s vision included adding a gift shop where people could browse while waiting to be seated. Today, that vision has grown into two very large and welcoming Butiks that have a draw all their own.
Hard work is the key to any business and that rings true for the Johnson Family. It has been and continues to be family run. In earlier years, you could hear Al’s booming voice in the dining room, saying “I’ve got a two-top here!” or “There’s a 4-top clear over there!” which meant the hostess was to fill that table quickly from the list of waiting customers! Al cleared tables, bussed trays, and washed dishes. Al set a fast pace for the dining room. A two hour wait was common and turn over was key. Al wanted to get the next people in as quickly as possible, so those dishes would be flying off the tables!
The food is served on dishes from Porsgrund, Norway, the decorative rosemaled painting around the interior was done by renowned Norwegian artist Sigmund Arseth. Many of the foods served are Swedish and Norwegian. Anything from the Swedish pancakes and meatballs served with Swedish lingonberries (a small, red berry much like a cranberry or currant in taste) to the varied Swedish crackers and Limpa bread on the bread tray, to the many specialty cheeses from Sweden, there is much to delight the palate! (For those wanting a more American fare, the menu includes the famed Al’s burger, local perch and whitefish plates, traditional ham, turkey, or clubhouse sandwiches, as well as a full array of salads and daily soups.) Breakfast is served all day and is a meal in itself! There is literally something tasty for everyone!