Despite the positive image presented when President William Ruto visited the African diplomat hangout restaurant owned by businessman Kevin Onyona in the US, there is a hidden issue brewing in his establishment. Onyona’s Swahili Village in New Jersey received praise from President Ruto during his US trip for promoting Kenyan culture abroad. However, a report by Washingtonian reveals that Onyona is currently entangled in a legal battle, accused of taking tips from his employees, many of whom are African immigrants.
According to a lawsuit filed by the DC Attorney General’s Office in August, Swahili Village is alleged to have mistreated its servers, food runners, bussers, and bartenders by paying them as little as Ksh.735 ($5) an hour, including tips, despite serving an upscale international clientele. The restaurant is also accused of denying its employees their legally mandated overtime and sick leave.
Kevin Onyona and his COO Emad Shoeb are reported to have violated the tipped minimum wage law and other worker protections in the city, where the minimum wage is Ksh.2314 ($15) per hour. It is alleged that the owners pocketed a significant portion of the tips while selectively compensating certain employees. Some workers were purportedly underpaid by as much as Ksh.735,250 ($5,000), and there were efforts to conceal payroll records to prevent employees from knowing their salary deductions.
DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb stated, “Our investigation indicates that Swahili Village DC and its executives, Kevin Onyona and Emad Shoeb, persistently and systematically failed to pay hundreds of hard-working restaurant workers the wages, tips, and benefits they were legally entitled to receive, violating the basic wage, overtime, sick leave, and record-keeping rules that all District employers are required to follow.”
Swahili Village operates multiple branches in the US, with its first location in Northwest, District of Columbia, opening in 2020, which President Ruto visited. Other branches are situated in Beltsville, Maryland, Newark in New Jersey, Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, and Manhattan in New York. The restaurant offers a variety of Kenyan dishes, including goat stew, nyama choma, kuku choma, bhajia, tilapia in coconut sauce (samaki wa nazi), and Tusker beer, among other options.