Kevin Onyona, a Kenyan based in the US is all out changing the narrative about Kenyan entrepreneurs in America. Behind his Swahili Village brand, Onyona has begun the journey to open 50 new restaurants across major US cities.
A month ago, Onyona took the Daring Abroad team by Alex Chamwada on a tour to a new restaurant that he’s setting up in New Jersey State, Newark City. He is a perfect example of an optimist who has hope amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has shut down the hospitality sector.
The new restaurant is directly opposite the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Everything has been approved by relevant authorities.
This is one of the 50 restaurants Onyona is establishing.
One thing about the restaurants under the Swahili Village brand is that they have a deep Kenyan-African theme which is key in branding. His first major restaurant, Swahili Village in Maryland speaks of this.
Onyona is happy about the development so far especially with the new restaurant being set up.
“It means we are really beginning to break grounds in terms of how we approach our locations. We are not on the backstreet anymore. We are on main street of the top cities of America,” he says.
In Washington DC, Onyona has an operational restaurant, The Consulate. The restaurant sits at the end of M Street.
Mark Kibutu, a Kenyan designer based in the US did wonders with The Consulate. The interior is heartwarming and the walls are plastered with Kenyan wildlife art, a symbol of African heritage.
President Uhuru Kenyatta launched Onyona’s restaurant in downtown DC and dined there. He lauded Onyona for his resilience and entrepreneurial spirit.
However, 10 days later, Covid-19 hit and the entire city was on lockdown.
“You can imagine from that busy traffic we had to almost zero traffic going back to just takeouts,” he sighs adding that he has had struggles but adapted to the new norm.
Onyona was working towards opening new units in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Virginia when Covid-19 pandemic came knocking. He is still hopeful that his dream will come true by the end of the year.
Once complete, the 50 units will employ at least 3,000 people.
When he looks back, he credits his resilience and determination to grow big. The Swahili Village founder has also made wise investment decisions.
“What we did well was that we were able to work our financials in a way that we are attractive to banks.
“For the most part, it has just come out of you borrow, you pay back, you borrow you pay back you grow. It’s just simple economics because I don’t have anybody I can say you know write a check for me.”
Although the Swahili Village is a Kenyan brand, only 5% of Kenyans are served. The major clientele, 65% are from West Africa, another 15% of mixed Africans from East and Southern Africa and another 15% are Americans.
He says that West Africans are more compared to the number of Kenyans in the US.