Immigrant Entrepreneur & Founder, Kevin Onyona Of Swahili Village Is Redefining The Future Of African Fine Dining In The Diaspora
Kevin Onyona, 53, the chef and founder behind the new Washington DC African restaurant that is trailblazing a path, is a force to be reckoned with. Known as ‘The Consulate,’ Swahili village DC opened its doors to the public, March 2020. The vision, Chef Kevin says, is to open upscale African fine dining in all fifty states.
Prior to the public opening of The Consulate, on February 5th, 2020, his mission was kickstarted with a private dinner turned ribbon cutting ceremony. At this event, the restaurant was officially inaugurated by President Kenyatta who is the President of Chef Kevin’s home country, Kenya.
With secret service adequately positioned, using the VIP entrance and dining privately with other distinguished guests in what is known as the ‘executive room,’ successfully hosting the President of Kenya was a true testament to the fact that Swahili Village DC- the Consulate, is ready for what it has set out to accomplish. Onyona says he strategically located this new restaurant within the diplomatic corridors of Washington DC to serve a greater good purpose. This will be the first of its kind within the diplomatic corridors; an upscale African fine dining restaurant that will serve as a social hub for US-Africa business and diplomatic community within the capital. Hosting the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta as the official first guest, truly sets the precedence for how Swahili Village plans to stand out.
The Consulate’s purpose is to offer an iconic fine dining experience of African cuisine and to bridge the gap that exists in DC between finding African eats at the same location of an events arena. In that light Swahili Village, The Consulate will serve as a social and cultural center for African dialogue.
Swahili Village as an establishment has stood the test of time. In May 2019, SV marked ten years of service to the diaspora and lovers of African continental flavors. Swahili Village (SV) has shown exemplary strides exhibiting what the future of African restaurants should look like. In May 2018, Swahili Village Beltsville had to be closed due to major damage caused by a fire in the kitchen. Instead of retreating, Mr. Kevin Onyona, founder of SV made a decision to come back with full force beating the obstacles that African restaurants or any kind of restaurant dealing with such mishap would typically face. Bouncing back in March 2019, Mr. Onyona introduced modern kitchen technologies and innovations such as the installation of a Lainox Naiboo Combi-oven, the world’s smartest and most versatile cooking platform with apps and a high-tech interface similar to a mobile phone.
This technology and other structural innovations improved not only the food service but every aspect of the restaurant’s efficiency. Also, Mr. Onyona went back to his vision board and strategized a Swahili Village 2030 growth plan. The roll out of his 2030 vision sets the tone to serve the African diaspora in unique ways– targeting major regions in the United States. The launch of the Swahili Village & Consulate is part of that plan which is now coming to the light.
What does a 2030 vision for an African restaurant look like? What is the future of African restaurants globally?
Serving in a capacity beyond just the label of a restaurateur, Mr. Onyona is a visionary. As an African, who immigrated to the United States, his success to achieve mastery in the African culinary field and pushing boundaries beyond the status quo is what makes him a torch bearer. By 2030, Swahili Village is set to be serving the diaspora another ten years but this time with over twenty more locations that would be getting close to celebrating their decade tenure. Currently SV is opening nationwide with niche concepts. The challenge facing African restaurants ranges from blending the diversity of tastes and flavors to truly appeal to the complexities that goes with the art of cooking African dishes to the challenge behind the scalability of African restaurants. Swahili Village is on a clear path to address these challenges with the future in clear sight. Mr. Onyona is convinced that the approach SV is taking in bringing in modern technologies and innovation, opening up the restaurant space to purposes that enables cultural learning is part of what the future of African restaurants holds.
Swahili Village & Consulate—A Global Destination
Swahili Village & Consulate (SVC) is positioned in the heart of Washington DC, the home of global and international affairs. DC is home to many national monuments, and museums. The city hosts 177 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profits, lobbying groups, and professional associations, including the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States, AARP, the National Geographic Society, the Human Rights Campaign, the International Finance Corporation, and more. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city, located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.
SVC is positioned within the diplomatic corridors of DC to be a destination for African social and cultural events to foster US-African engagement. FOOD brings people together and builds communities. SVC is strategically located in the heart of DC to serve as a globally known destination where diplomatic mission and civic engagement within the international diplomatic community especially for African dialogues can be entertained. This is a first of its kind where a hub will serve dual purposes catering particularly to the diaspora. Mr. Onyona aims to fill up a gap in the dining and conversation scene, solving a problem that has long term affected high level African officials who live in or Visit DC but cannot fully appreciate a taste of home unless they exit the diplomatic corridors.
The Swahili Village & Consulate DC serves as an Iconic African restaurant and center for US-African diplomatic engagements covering arts, culture, economic and trade conversations, and meetings. SVC also has a luxurious nightlife scenery like no other with an in-house DJ and other attributes that will transform the space to magnetic nighttime energy. SVC will cater to African related government agencies and organizations in DC. SVC will also curate in-house socially responsible and impactful community programs such as a monthly African Policy Breakfast, African union receptions and functions and monthly African ambassador group dinners. SVC will also engage in community give back endeavors such as ensuring a zero-food waste policy to provide regular feeding of the homeless and make sure food that can be given to the homeless is not wasted.
For the first time, a fine dining African restaurant will become a global five-star dining and events destination for African leaders who visit DC, for the African diaspora in DC, high level international figures with love for Africa and the international development community in DC.
A Taste of Kenya for All:
The East- African dishes served in Swahili Village & Consulate consist of the staples that Swahili Village has been known for in the past ten years. The flavors ties in an appreciation for all parts of Africa and the world at large. This is what is fundamentally unique to the menu of Swahili Village, the fact that anybody from any region in the world can find something that excitedly agrees with their taste buds. Swahili Village menu captures the essence of distant lands bringing a rich blend of Arabian, Indian, Persian, Portuguese, European and African flavors, an unrivaled blend of seasonings and approach to indigenous African cuisine.
Meats – Nyama Choma- Swahili for roast meat, usually goat or beef is sure to be the center stage with other side dishes like Ugali or Kachumbari (salsa). Ugali is a polenta-like cornmeal slab, starchy comfort food accompanied with the right dishes like vegetables or a rich meat dish like well-cooked Tilapia.
Fish and Chicken – The vast Lake Victoria which Kenya shares a border with Uganda and Tanzania, is the main producer of freshwater fish. Tilapia is the most common fish in Kenya. Coconut Tilapia or Coconut Masala paired with pilau is some of the traditional Swahili fish dish. Free range chicken is a top choice for rich coconut stew.
Vegetables – For everyday cuisine, Kenyan cuisine is heavily vegetarian. This is another strong appeal for a global and international market base in DC. Sukuma Wiki is collard greens cooked with onions.
Indians and Arabic Influence – In the 19century, a large Indian population of indentured laborers recruited from the British-ruled India (colonial rulers) migrated to Kenya. This is why classical Swahili dishes will correlate well with those familiar with Indian foods such as Chapati, Samosas, bhajia, pilau and more.
Watch: Founder of TANTV, Adedayo Fashanu chat with Kevin Onyona about the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the business!