Friday, March 6, 2020
1990 M Street, NW
After more than 10 years in operation, Swahili Village will open in DC's Golden Triangle on March 6. The restaurant has received international recognition since opening in Beltsville Maryland in 2009 for authentically adapted Kenyan cuisine, becoming a gathering place for African diplomats and business owners with an uncommon blend of fine dining and African traditional fare.
Owner Kevin Onyona still savors life growing up on the shores of Lake Victoria, from the Tilapia - a lake staple - to the coconuts that grew along the east coast and the abundant spices from nearby Zanzibar, a result of continuous trade between Indian, western and Arab traders. Components like ugali, the sub-saharan version of polenta, and chapati (flat bread Americans know better as roti), were the basics of most meals, and absorbed the flavorful stews of coconut, fish, goat and lamb that beg comparison to Indian curries. After spending years as a seminarian, Kevin's path to priesthood took a worldly turn with job at General Motors, where a sales job led to the art of customer service, a commitment that remains at the heart of Kevin's business philosophy. Following his soon-to-be wife to the United States, Kevin's entrepreneurial instincts led him to food, navigating the corporate world while developing recipes and ideas in the evening. In a mutually fortuitous event, Kevin hired chef Sammy Davis as an in-home chef and mentor, and several years of instruction later created the first Swahili Village in Maryland. Moving to a larger site in Beltsville to accommodate the crowds, Kevin turned over his first site to Davis, who opened Milk & Honey, which grew to a stunning success of its own.
Kevin received international acclaim (WBJ, NPR, Eater, WaPo), but a devastating fire in 2018 shut down Swahili Village. Kevin rebuilt, but knew his patrons, coming from the entire east coast, needed a downtown DC location, where so many lived and worked as diplomats and foreign nationals.
The new location at 1990 M Street was home for two decades to Vidalia, the popular restaurant from Jeff Buben. Even before being officially opened the new and refined Swahili Village has already been celebrated by President Kenyatta of Kenya, where Kevin is a popular native son. The cuisine recalls Kenyan delicacies, where 3-hour meals are common. Adapting the slow cooking process to American sensibilities has meant innovation, and a healthier and more reliable process eliminating fried foods and focusing on responsibly sourced produce, while committing to the same Kenyan spices that keep it authentic.
Kevin Onyona may be reached at , or 301-613-3514
Ken Johnson of Blake Dickson Real Estate represented Swahili Village, and may be reached at , 202-309-0935