By Prudence Minayo
Kevin Onyona never dreamt of being the owner of one of the best African themed restaurant in a far flung country. Infact, his dream was to become a Catholic priest. However, the dynamics of life saw him end up in the United States where he has become a renowned restaurateur.
Here is his story as told by WoK.
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Moving to the United States
Kevin was born in Ugenya before moving to Homa Bay county where he was raised. He moved to the US in September 1999 where he worked as a sales executive at Home Depot. His passion, however, lay in cooking. He had been inspired by his grandmother back home in Kenya who prepared delicious meals out of simple ingredients.
In 2009, he opened Swahili Village in a small space that resembled a trailer park in College Park. He had always been unsatisfied with the African restaurants he visited in the States. Rather than complain about them incessantly, he decided to open one himself.
In 2016, the restaurant upgraded to a bigger space in Beltsville, Maryland. His choose paint decorations that were a masterful representation of different places across Africa and designed a space that offered fine dining with an inviting atmosphere.
The restaurant gained a lot of traction and became a hotspot for many Kenyans traveling to the US for business from ambassadors to Cabinet Secretaries including Fred Matiang’i. While they offer Kenyan cuisine, they believe their food cuts across different cultures from the breath and width of Africa.
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“Our food, believe it or not, touches almost all continents. Anybody who comes to our restaurants will find something familiar, except we make it the Kenya way,” he said after the opening of their Washington DC branch.
Most of the customers at the restaurant ended up being West Africa with only a handful of Kenyans. Most of the patrons admitted that the food and ambience at the restaurant keeps them going for more. Everything from the deco to the furnishings cost upwards of $1 million.
In a 2019 interview with Alex Chamwada, he explained his hopes to open six more branches in other areas, namely: Downtown Washington DC, New York New Jersey, Atlanta Georgia, Dallas and Houston Texas and Boston.
Despite the success, Kevin Onyona has had his fair share of challenges. First, it is convincing people to give them a chance. From customers to landlords, people are often hesitant to accept their ideas and cuisine.
In 2018, they suffered a major setback following a kitchen fire. In 2020, they opened their Downtown Washington DC branch and attracted a huge crowd. The restaurant christened DC christened The Consulate was graced by many people including Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta who visited the restaurant in February 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic struck barely two weeks later forcing them to let go of their staff and close down. By the time, they were re-opening, numbers had gone down considerably.
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