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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Up on the Roof with Goats

Air Date: Week of October 8, 2010

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Goats are natural climbers and enjoy the elevation.

Some restaurants have goat on the menu; this one has goats on the roof. A Swedish Restaurant in Wisconsin has become so famous for its rooftop stable that the owner has decided to patent his design. Host Bruce Gellerman asks proprietor Lars Johnson about intellectual property and ornamental livestock.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: We got this from the Wall Street Journal, not from the paper’s ‘Heard on the Street’ column -- it’s more like herd on the roof story. At Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in beautiful Door County Wisconsin you’ll find traditional Scandinavian meatballs, pancakes, and salmon on the menu -- and goats on the roof. We kid you not.
The goats are the restaurant’s unusual trademark, and owner Lars Johnson will lock legal horns with anyone who dares to copy it. We caught up with Lars Johnson by cell phone early one morning.

JOHNSON: Hello? Hello?

GELLERMAN: Where are you right now?

JOHNSON: We’re in the process of putting our goats up on the roof for the day.

GELLERMAN: Goats on the roof….

JOHNSON: Yeah, well, you know, we back in 1973, we brought the building over from Scandinavia similar to Lincoln logs, and it’s a Norweigan farm building from Norway, and we put grass on our roof. And, shortly after that we decided the best thing for our restaurant was to let goats graze on the roof.

GELLERMAN: And, how many goats have you got?

JOHNSON: Usually up on the roof there’s anywhere from six to eight, and the roof is approximately 15,000 square feet, and its up and down and the pitch is similar to any roof- but it’s grass. And goats are natural climbers, and they’re very affectionate animals.

GELLERMAN: Where are they right now?

JOHNSON: Well, they are on the roof with me, this morning. I am actually talking to you on top of our roof this morning, and it’s a beautiful sunny day in Door County, Wisconsin.

GELLERMAN: The goats are a big draw, people flock to your restaurant.

JOHNSON: They do indeed. We serve about 3,000 people a day in 124 feet restaurant. And, the goats are indeed part of the draw.

GELLERMAN: I guess there’s so much of a draw that you’ve trademarked the goats on the roof.

JOHNSON: We did. And I guess the legal term is called ‘tradedraft’. And it’s a service mark, and we did this in the mid-90’s- our law firm recommended to us that we have something that we should protect.

GELLERMAN: You really can trademark having goats on a roof of a restaurant?

JOHNSON: Well, evidently so. We filed a mark back in the ‘90s with the US Patent and Trademark office, and we have a service mark.

GELLERMAN: Now I heard that you’re a really naysayer when it comes to other people putting goats on their roof.

JOHNSON: Well, not necessarily true. I think that in order to protect the mark, we’re always interested in who possibly has violated the mark, and we’re certainly interested in talking to people about licensing agreements. And that’s the whole intent. It’s that we’re not out to put people out of business.

GELLRMAN: So, have other restaurateurs tried to put goats on their roof?

JOHNSON: Well, to our knowledge, only one in the United States. And, it was down in Georgia. We certainly recognized that he has a very viable business and a very popular business, and we entered into an agreement with him, so that he can continue keeping his goats on the roof.

And, I wish them all the luck and continued good success in business.

GELLERMAN: Cause I heard that there were some goats that had hoped up on an iHop sign in Virginia, I guess it was.

JOHNSON: Yeah, that is indeed true. I guess recently, and that was a very innocent thing that happened, on a billboard, I think, and the goats were grazing on the hillside and goats are climbers. So, they would jump up on the billboard, and naturally people would pull over and found it very interesting and people were taking pictures of the goats on the billboard.

And so, there’s really no violation of the trademark or tradedraft in that particular case. Certainly if they appear on the roof of any iHops, then there possibly is a violation.

GELLERMAN: So, McDonald’s has it’s arches, KFC it’s Colonel, and you’ve got your goats.

JOHNSON: There you go.

GELLERMAN: Now I guess you’ve heard all of the goat jokes there are, right?

JOHNSON: Ha, most of them.

GELLERMAN: Got a favorite?

JOHNSON: Oh, you know, I do have a favorite, you know, but it’s funny because I have a great deal of respect for Muhammed Ali and a few years ago he called himself the goat and I was wondering why he did that. And if you looked into a little bit further, goat stood for Greatest of All Time. And I thought that if anybody deserves that title, it was Muhammed Ali.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs). Had you ever heard this one? When people copy your trademark it really gets your goat?

JOHNSON: Ha! I love it! (Laughs) I love it.

GELLERMAN: Well Mr. Johnson I want to thank you very much, it’s been a real pleasure.

JOHNSON: Thank you as well.

GELLERMAN: Lars Johnson pastures his goats on the roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Door County, Wisconsin.

 

Links

Live goat cam, so you don't miss a bleat

Al Johnson is one of the top grossing restaurants in Wisconsin

This story first appeared in the Wall Street Journal

 

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