Al’s building and how it grew

With a little imagination, you can almost see the little grocery store called Hanson’s IGA, now entirely surrounded by the four walls of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik.

Sister Bay families bought their groceries in the little IGA store during the 1930s and ‘40s, but when Al Johnson bought the building in 1949, he had something very different in mind. He wanted a restaurant, a place where good food would give friends and neighbors an excuse to gather and linger.

The customers ate the food and lingered, but at that point Al didn’t waste much time enhancing the physical structure of the building. Less than 10 years later, though, he began remodeling it, pushing the front forward toward Hwy 42, and installing a rooftop deck, although it was never used for customer seating. In 1960, he changed the building once again, moving towards a classic 1960s look, much of which is still buried beneath the current log exterior.

In 1973, the last major remodeling took place, giving the business its famous Scandinavian look of logs with a sod roof, and also resulted in goats going onto the roof. The remodeling added a lobby, and brought the formerly-separate Butik under the same roof. Al and Ingert then traveled to Scandinavia, where they found ideas for the authentic Swedish decor that underscores the “Swedish” in the restaurant’s name.

At the time all of this was done, big log homes hadn’t yet become popular in the United States. The Johnsons’ trip, first to Sweden and then to Norway, is where the business’s new log façade — Norwegian yellow pine — was built. The building was erected in Norway, then disassembled and the logs numbered for shipping to Sister Bay.

The couple also bought several other log buildings, which can be seen behind the restaurant near the pond, now used for storage. Back in the U.S., a crew of Scandinavian specialist woodworkers reassembled everything.

The new building was constructed around the existing building. The Johnsons are proud of the fact that the restaurant never closed during that time.

The sod roof is typically Scandinavian, and the goats have added even more authenticity. As a result, Al Johnson’s is a unique Door County destination — for food, great times, and photo opps!