A lot of restaurants have lovely patios, but Campbellford’s The Dockside Bistro takes it one step further. Not only can you dine by the water—boaters arriving by the Trent-Severn Waterway can tie off below the patio and enjoy a meal quite literally dockside. It’s a distinction few other restaurants can boast, but if you’re dining in the cooler months you’ll find the interior equally charming. The lovingly restored 19th century Baptist church retains much of its original character, with its heavy wooden beams and warm red brick. Then of course there’s the menu, carefully crafted with a range of gourmet dishes from classic steak to a flavourful lamb rogan josh.
“Smaller towns don’t often get something like this,” admits co-owner Sarah Sanyal. “Something so different from what they’ve already got.” She and her husband Sandy bring with them over twenty years of experience in the industry, but their latest venture is a chance to try something fresh. After running a restaurant in Pickering and a catering business in Toronto, Sanyal says they settled on Campbellford as an ideal change of pace.
“We were at a point where we had grown several times with our business in Toronto,” Sanyal says. “We were looking at it and saying, okay, are we ready to grow again, which meant a huge move for us. It meant moving to a different location, getting more vehicles on the road, large investments. Do we want to do that, or do we want to do something different?”
The couple had originally envisioned a breakfast café in Peterborough or Buckhorn, until the former church at 67 Queen Street Campbellford caught their attention. A year and half of renovations weren’t part of the original plan—nor was the global pandemic—but the Sanyals made it work.
“We had stocked up quite a bit with all of our supplies in Toronto, and then around the middle of March  is when everything sort of shut down. No more events, no more large gatherings. Everybody was really afraid of what this thing was, and rightly so. So we had a ton of product sitting.” Rather than let it go to waste, the Sanyals pivoted to making free meals before their business had even officially opened. “Suddenly people were out of work, people were laid off, people were afraid to go to the grocery store in some cases. Seniors, people with health issues, they were scared to go out, so us being able to bring them a meal… we knew that we could help somebody relieve that burden a little bit.”
Their impromptu food program was so popular, the Sanyals ended up accepting donations to be able to continue it for several more months. Now it seems the local support is being reciprocated: “The community really knew us long before we ever opened simply because of this, and they’ve been extremely supportive out here for us and of our business.”
When they finally did open their doors to regular orders in November 2021, Sanyal says they faced a problem any restauranteur would be glad to have—the response was overwhelming. “What we did was, we invited a few people that sort of helped us to get here along the way,” she says. “So we hoped to just keep it a little bit quieter that way. It didn’t work out—everybody knew about it. Everybody showed up on day one. The whole town came out, awesome!”
With opening day behind them, the Sanyals are now settling into a rhythm and gauging the response to what they call “upscale casual dining.” Asked about signature dishes, Sanyal says she’s proud of their in-house smoked meat and their butter chicken, but they’ve tried to bring creativity to every aspect of their menu, from appetizers to mains. “Things that are just a little bit different and take it up that extra notch,” as Sanyal puts it. Judging by the early reception, they’re off to an excellent start.
Visit https://thedocksidebistro.com to view the full menu, make reservations, and read more about The Dockside Bistro