Dildo was hoping to cash in on a post-Kimmel boom — then came the pandemic


Sulagna Sanyal, left, and Rajesh Menon opened Yes B’y Indian Restaurant in the Newfoundland community of Dildo this past summer. (Chris O’Neill-Yates/CBC)

When Sulagna Sanyal and Rajesh Menon drove into the eastern Newfoundland community of Dildo for the first time in August 2019, they were surprised by the traffic jam on the main road and the booming businesses along them.

The couple had made the trip to Newfoundland from Fort McMurray, Alta., to look at a waterfront property they were thinking of buying. They were totally unaware that the frenzy in town was the result of U.S. talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel’s obsession with the town’s name and the publicity it had generated.

“You didn’t expect that kind of a crowd. Later on we came to know about the Jimmy Kimmel show and that they had mentioned about Dildo,” said Menon.

With backgrounds in business, they saw the community as an ideal place to realize their dream of living by the sea and owning their own business.

In 2019, Jimmy Kimmel could not get enough of the tiny Newfoundland community of Dildo. (Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube)

By December, Sanyal and Menon had moved to Dildo, and this past summer opened Yes B’y Indian Restaurant — the only Indian restaurant in rural Newfoundland.

“We realized that within 80 kilometres, there’s no Indian food,” said Sanyal.

Since leaving India seven years earlier, the couple had lived in Alberta and B.C., but said they fell in love with Dildo and the house they viewed there instantly.

“We never knew that such a beautiful place existed,” Sanyal said. The couple sat and talked for two hours before deciding, “This is it.”

“So we left our jobs — well-paying jobs — and we said, ‘Let’s start fresh.'”

High hopes dashed

Their fresh start came as excitement about the Kimmel hype was at a fever pitch. Business owners were banking on tourists from all over North America putting Dildo on their travel itinerary in 2020.

Kimmel’s on-air sidekick, Guillermo Rodriguez, had even come to town for a week in 2019 and broadcast segments with the locals. Tourists poured in that summer and Dildo had achieved the kind of fame that advertising dollars could not buy.

But three months after Sanyal and Menon moved to Dildo, the pandemic struck. By the time the 2020 tourism season started, any hopes of a massive influx of visitors had been replaced by the struggle to keep their businesses afloat without customers.

Angela Reid, a co-owner of Dildo Brewing, is another business owner who watched the anticipated boom go bust.

Sanyal and Menon turned their restaurant into a takeout place because of COVID-19 restrictions, and saw great support from so-called staycationers. (Chris O’Neill-Yates/CBC)

Reid expected American tourists in particular would turn up in droves, before pandemic regulations prevented them from entering Canada.

“All our business here in the community, we were all ramping up and getting excited about the coming season because of all the Jimmy Kimmel hype,” said Reid. “So it was a letdown, for sure. We were all like, ‘Ugh!'”

But businesses understood that keeping people safe came first, said Reid, and they adapted to the health guidelines when they were finally allowed to reopen.

Saved by staycationers

Sanyal and Menon turned their restaurant into a takeout place because of COVID-19 restrictions and had to rely on “staycationers” — residents of Newfoundland and Labrador who made trips closer to home. 

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure,” said Menon. “Travelling was almost dead, but with [staycations] it did get revived.”

Most people who came to their restaurant during the summer already had some idea of what Indian food is, said Menon. But the couple wants to expand its clientele and bring in more local diners.

“Many of the local community members are coming and saying, ‘We are here trying Indian food for the very first time. What is it that you have that is not very hot, not very spicy?'” said Sanyal.

Angela Reid, co-owner of Dildo Brewing Co., anticipated a business boom this year, before the beginning of the pandemic. (Chris O’Neill-Yates/CBC)

They are making some dishes less spicy and it is going over well, especially at the shed parties they have been invited to attend, she said.

Sanyal and Menon say they have no plans of giving up after weathering a pandemic during their first summer in business.

WATCH | Jimmy Kimmel’s comic campaign to become mayor of Dildo brought international attention to the small harbour community in 2019: 

Jimmy Kimmel wants to be the mayor of Dildo, N.L., and now he’s dispatched his sidekick Guillermo to drum up support. 0:58

At Dildo Brewing Company, Reid is optimistic that a corner has been turned. 

“Now that we have a vaccine we are hoping that travel will soon pick up…. A lot of people are really wanting to travel,” she said.

People in Dildo have also not given up on the idea that Kimmel will make an appearance in town one day. If he ever does, Menon jokes that he might have a bone to pick with him.

“I keep telling [Sanyal] that we should ask Jimmy Kimmel to pay 20 per cent — because of him I think we ended up paying 20 per cent more for the house.”

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