Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik, the Sister Bay eatery best known as the place where goats graze on a grass roof, has been named the Best Small Business in America.
On Small Business Saturday on Nov. 24, Rubicon Global, an Atlanta-based provider of waste, recycling and smart city solutions, bestowed the honor on Al Johnson’s, based on public voting. The business will receive a $10,000 check.
Al Johnson’s has been serving authentic Swedish and mainstream America comfort food since 1949. In the early 1970s, when the restaurant was looking to expand, it pulled in some authenticity from its Scandinavian roots and procured a grass and sod roof built in Norway and shipped to the United States.
Grass and sod roofs have long been known for absorbing rainwater, providing superior natural and sustainable insulation, and creating an ecosystem and habitat for wildlife. The signature grass roof of Al Johnson’s has helped reduce spending on energy and heat and has become a landmark staple and example in the community, where even the local goats walk the roof.
The second annual Best Small Business in America contest drew hundreds of entries across the country. Leaders from Rubicon judged the entries along with executives from Toast, a restaurant management platform, and MINDBODY, a technology platform for the fitness, wellness and beauty services industries. The judges whittled the nominees down to the final 15, which were then open to public voting to decide the winner.
“Al Johnson’s is a prime example of a small business taking advantage of its history and integrating a sustainable solution that yields financial and environmental benefits, along with demonstrating sustainability in action for its patrons,” said David Rachelson, vice president of sustainability for Rubicon Global.
Al Johnson’s will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2019, but the restaurant prides itself on operating much the same way it has since its inception. Its founder, Al Johnson, was a Swedish immigrant and World War II veteran who served with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne. Johnson started the restaurant by hiring good people, treating them well and being mindful of giving back to the community in numerous ways.