Though the goats continue to appear every summer season on the grass roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik in Sister Bay, though Al’s wife, Ingert (in her 80’s), may still be seen early in the morning sweeping, sometimes washing the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, though the two sons, Lars and Rolfe, are hard at work in the kitchen cooking, filling orders, and the daughter, Annika, is in the dining room serving customers and keeping a steady eye trained on the tables, on the people waiting to be seated, though it may take over an hour to be seated at the height of summer, though both the log exterior of the building and interior design and furnishings of the restaurant exude a warm, old world welcome impossible to be found with such authenticity anywhere else in the county, though the waitresses are attentive, efficient, friendly, beautifully dressed/costumed in their colorful, European dirndls, though the layers of delicious thin Swedish pancakes dabbed with butter, smothered in maple syrup, lingonberries, and topped, perhaps, with Swedish meatballs, with whipped cream or ice cream and strawberries…though all this (and more) remains the unique Door County dining experience simply described as: “Eating at Al’s,” the single most important factor of this setting is no longer in place: Al himself, who died in June, 2010.
There are customers still unaware of his passing. New customers with no memory of Al Johnson on the floor, in total command, no knowledge of the strength and tone of his distinctive voice (both happy and harried) in the kitchen, behind the counter, on the floor, pulling out chairs to a perfectly shiny, table-setting (2-top, 4-top, 10-top), pouring coffee with one hand, holding his famous blue rag in the other, talking a mile a minute to customers while his eyes scour the entire dining room to see what else might need his attention…voicing his concerns to waitresses, bus people, anyone in range. This was classic Al Johnson, ALIVE, in place, on fire! Often ending a crackling customer conversation with a laugh, a hand shake, a pat-on-the-back, and his classic loud and laughing goodbye: “You got that right!”
The way Al Johnson himself had it so right (conviviality, compassion, customer service) that it is difficult for those who remember him to believe, in the height of the summer season, that the spirit of Al is not on the floor, in full command, hands flying, eyes flitting about the room, voice bouncing off tables, walls, ceiling.
Even the goats on the roof, strike a pose, solemnly raise their heads, and affirm their master’s voice: Yes, you got that right!