Kevin Onyona is not your typical restaurateur.
He’s a Kenyan businessman who has made a significant mark in the culinary world, especially in the United States, through his Swahili Village restaurants.
His journey from Kenya to Washington DC, where he now resides, has been an inspiring tale of entrepreneurship, cultural preservation, and a deep love for food.
In 1999, Onyona’s adventure began when he first traveled to the United States to visit a friend, Lynn Senda, who was then studying at Howard University in Washington DC.
Little did he know that this visit would sow the seeds of a culinary empire that would span several states and become a haven for those seeking authentic African flavors.
After his initial visit, Onyona returned to Kenya but carried the dream of establishing a presence in the United States.
He had a background in sales but was determined to pursue his vision in the culinary world. Eventually, he made the life-altering decision to move to the US, where he married Lynn and settled down.
The inspiration for Swahili Village came from Onyona’s desire to create a space that offered Africans living in the US a taste of home. He envisioned a restaurant where people could savor not only the flavors of Kenya but also the warmth and hospitality that are synonymous with African culture.
In 2016, this dream became a reality when he opened the first Swahili Village restaurant in Maryland.
The Maryland branch was unique, offering African cuisines that were a blend of flavors, colors, and traditions from across the continent.
It quickly became a cultural hub for Africans in the area, a place where they could gather, celebrate their heritage, and share delicious meals. The success of this venture marked the beginning of a culinary journey that would take Onyona to new heights.
Buoyed by the positive response to his first restaurant, Kevin Onyona decided to expand his culinary empire.
He opened another branch in Washington DC, strategically positioning it to reach a wider audience and popularize the Swahili Village brand.
The restaurant in DC not only served mouthwatering dishes but also became a symbol of cultural celebration and unity.
In Onyona’s own words, Swahili Village was meant “to celebrate our place here in DC and remind everyone that we have big plans as we move forward in our mission to bring people together through food, culture, art, and enlightened conversations.” This mission was at the core of Swahili Village’s identity and success.
The growth of Swahili Village didn’t stop at Maryland and Washington DC. Today, the restaurant chain has expanded its footprint to include three more outlets in New Jersey, Virginia, and Manhattan.
Each restaurant offers a rich menu featuring a wide array of Kenyan delicacies, from crispy bhajia and succulent tilapia in coconut sauce to flavorful kuku choma (grilled chicken) and nyama choma (grilled meat). For those looking for a taste of home, Swahili Village delivers an authentic experience.
Beyond its delectable dishes, Swahili Village has also been a gathering place for dignitaries and leaders. It has had the honor of hosting President William Ruto, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, US Secretary of State Antony John Blinken, and Raila Odinga, the leader of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya, among others.
These visits attest to the restaurant’s reputation as a cultural ambassador, bridging the gap between Kenya and the United States through food and shared experiences.
During a recent visit to the United States, President Ruto and his delegation had the pleasure of dining at Swahili Village’s New Jersey location. President Ruto commended Onyona for his remarkable success and the authenticity of the Kenyan experience offered at the restaurant.
He stated, “We’re very proud as Kenyans, and I’m very proud as a Kenyan leader that you hustled your way into this investment. We have come here to celebrate what you’re doing, and you’re doing very well.”