I was in Georgia recently, and the folks I was visiting told me about one of their favorite tourist attractions: Goats on the Roof. Goats on the Roof? I didn't understand. And sadly, I didn't have time to go see for myself, but it's definitely on my to-do list for my next visit.
So, what's "Goats on the Roof?" It is a restaurant/entertainment concept that involves real, live goats that spend time grazing on rooftops. According to the Goats on the Roof website:
The concept of having live goats on a roof dates back 40 years to the legendary Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Door County, Wisconsin. The Johnson family began letting goats graze on the sodded roof of their Sister Bay, WI eatery to attract crowds, and boy has it worked well for them. Four decades later, the restaurant is still going strong, and the goats (and the Swedish pancakes) are as popular as ever.
USA Today provides more history and context:
Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay, Wis., is known for the goats on its roof. It was founded in 1949; in 1973, the late Johnson expanded into a new building and ordered a traditional sod-roofed building from Norway. "The walls were constructed, numbered, disassembled, and shipped to us," said son Lars Johnson.
The Door County Pulse explains that the goats on the roof idea at the Sister Bay, WI store started as a practical joke:
In 1973, when the restaurant building was renovated, grass was planted on the roof to follow a Scandinavian custom that started with rural houses built into hills. That same year, Al Johnson's friend Winkie Larson bought him a goat named Oscar, and later decided to play a joke on Al. He was in the process of climbing a ladder to Al's roof, with Oscar tucked under his arm, when the goat started kicking so hard that Winkie fell and broke his collarbone. On his second attempt, however, Winkie was successful, and ended up starting a tradition that will no doubt last for many more decades to come.
But the Goats on the Roof concept is now no laughing matter. TechDirt explains that Lars Johnson, the owner of Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant, trademarked "putting goats on your building to attract customers," and promises to sue any company that violates the trademark. The owners of the Wisconsin restaurant have licensed the concept to two other restaurants—one is in Tiger, Georgia and the other is in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (There are also attractions in Canada that involve goats and roofs, including this one in Coombs, BC, but they aren't affiliated with the US chain and aren't violating the law because it doesn't apply outside of the US).
Brit on the Move asks the question we all want to know: "Why visit goats on the roof?":
First of all, you will be able to see goats and feed goats — a whole lot of them.
From the roof, they wander from one building to another using the bridges that connect the buildings. There are several options to feed the goats while they are on the roof. For a small fee, you can send food up to the goats via various pully systems. If you feed the goats, you can earn yourself the goat ranger badge. Then there is the side yard where you can hand feed the goats. The kids love this, and it's fun to watch.
There's more than just goats, though. At the original Goats on the Roof, you will find Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant, a beer garden, a shop carrying Swedish and Scandinavian goods, and an annual "roofing of the goats" parade. At the Georgia location you'll also find a food truck, a general store where you can find snacks and treats including boiled peanuts, homemade fudge, and nitro ice cream. There's also a children's playground, a gem mine, and a country store. The Pigeon Forge location offers similar experiences but also includes a "goat coaster," which, according to their website, is:
an exciting journey through the hills of Tennessee at speeds just under 30mph and with a view that can't be seen anywhere else in town. Whether you enjoy riding alone or pairing up – it doesn't matter since the carts are designed to comfortably carry one or two people. Each cart is equipped with hand brakes so you can go slow if you are a little nervous, or let it rip if you are a speed demon. This hands-on ride is fun for the whole family, from children to grandparents. All are guaranteed to have a fantastic and memorable time!
Someday, I hope to visit one of the Goats on the Roof, and if I'm lucky, I'll get to feed a bunch of goats. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with watching videos of other people enjoying the festivities, like this one from NOLA Gent, who gives us a tour of the Georgia location.