Kenyan Owned Restaurant Chain ‘Swahili Village’ Sued by Washington DC Attorney General

August 25, 2023

A United States restaurant chain owned by a Kenyan, is in legal trouble in Washington DC.

Swahili Village, a chain of restaurants owned by Kenyan immigrant Kevin Onyona is being sued by DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb for alleged ‘wage theft’.

The upscale restaurant has been serving Kenyan and East African dishes along D.C.’s power-dining M Street NW corridor. It has since expanded to 4 other cities, among them Beltsville, Maryland; Newark, New Jersey; Manhattan, New York etc.

Swahili Village has been featured at least 3 times on Alex Chamwada’s ‘Daring Abroad’.

The DC restaurant is popular among Kenyan delegations visiting the US, including top politicians. It was actually opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2020, and nicknamed ‘The Consulate’.

According to the AG, the restaurant has been involved in a systematic ‘wage theft’, most of which happened during the Covid pandemic.

“We’re suing DC restaurant Swahili Village and its executives for systematically stealing wages and tips from servers, hosts, runners, bussers, and bartenders. My office is committed to enforcing the District’s wage and labor laws and standing up for DC workers,” he tweeted.

The AG argues that owner Kevin Onyona and COO Emad Shoeb allegedly owe their workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in backpay.

The lawsuit alleges that Onyona consistently paid many servers $5 per hour, including tips, yet DC’s minimum wage stood at $14.

As the restaurant got busier, Onyona is accused of: not submitting overtime payments to his employees, failure to distribute tips, failure to offer paid sick leaves, and not maintaining accurate payroll records.

Some individual employees are said to be owed over $5,000. Many of them are African immigrants. After receiving a tip, the attorney general’s office spoke to more than a dozen Swahili Village employees during a lengthy pre-suit investigation.

Onyona, a self-trained chef, arrived in the US in 1999, where he first set up shop in Suburban Maryland.

By 2022, the DC restaurant alone had over 60 employees.

Swahili Village is a popular hangout spot for African dignitaries and diplomats, hence the nickname ‘The Consulate’.

You can read the full complaint here.

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