Kevin Onyona defies the conventional image of a restaurateur. Hailing from Kenya, he has left an indelible mark on the culinary landscape, particularly in the United States, thanks to his Swahili Village restaurants. His journey from Kenya to his current residence in Washington DC is a tale of entrepreneurship, cultural preservation, and an unwavering passion for cuisine.
In 1999, Onyona’s odyssey began when he embarked on a journey to the United States to visit a friend, Lynn Senda, who was pursuing her studies at Howard University in Washington DC. Little did he realize that this visit would plant the seeds of a culinary empire that would stretch across multiple states and become a haven for those seeking genuine African flavors.
Following his initial visit, Onyona returned to Kenya but nurtured the dream of establishing a foothold in the United States. Despite his background in sales, he was determined to pursue his culinary vision. Eventually, he made the life-changing decision to relocate to the US, where he later married Lynn and settled down.
The inspiration for Swahili Village stemmed from Onyona’s desire to create a haven that would offer Africans residing in the US a taste of their homeland. He envisioned a restaurant where patrons could not only relish the flavors of Kenya but also experience the warmth and hospitality synonymous with African culture.
In 2016, this dream materialized when he opened the inaugural Swahili Village restaurant in Maryland. This Maryland branch was a unique culinary gem, offering African cuisines that harmoniously blended flavors, colors, and traditions from across the continent. It swiftly became a cultural nexus for Africans in the region, a place to congregate, celebrate their heritage, and savor delectable meals. This marked the beginning of a culinary journey that would propel Onyona to new heights.
Encouraged by the resounding success of his first establishment, Kevin Onyona resolved to expand his culinary empire. He inaugurated another branch in Washington DC, strategically positioning it to reach a broader audience and propagate the Swahili Village brand.
This DC-based restaurant not only tantalized taste buds but also symbolized cultural celebration and unity. In Onyona’s own words, Swahili Village aimed “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 remained at the heart of Swahili Village’s identity and triumph.
The growth of Swahili Village did not stop at Maryland and Washington DC. Presently, the restaurant chain has extended its presence to encompass three additional locations in New Jersey, Virginia, and Manhattan. Each restaurant boasts an extensive menu featuring a diverse array of Kenyan delicacies, ranging from crispy bhajia and succulent tilapia in coconut sauce to flavorful kuku choma (grilled chicken) and nyama choma (grilled meat). For those yearning for a taste of home, Swahili Village delivers an authentic culinary experience.
Beyond its mouthwatering offerings, Swahili Village has also served as a gathering place for dignitaries and leaders. It has had the privilege of hosting notable figures such as 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 underscore the restaurant’s reputation as a cultural envoy, bridging the divide between Kenya and the United States through the medium of 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 praised Onyona for his remarkable achievements and the authenticity of the Kenyan experience offered by the restaurant. He lauded, “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.”