Swahili Village owner hopes new space is grand enough to attract Obama

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Swahili Village owner hopes new space is grand enough to attract Obama

Swahili Village owner hopes new space is grand enough to attract ObamaKevin Onyona, chef and owner of Swahili Village, is convinced he has been losing customers because of his address on Baltimore Avenue in Beltsville. The problem isn’t limited to the Kenyan restaurant’s unfortunate location, which is situated behind a Shell gas station. The place is also small, and it requires customers to hike up steep stairs to dine there. Some older patrons can’t navigate the steps.

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So on June 10, Onyona expects to relocate to a new space at 10800 Rhode Island Avenue in Sunrise Plaza. It’s less than a half-mile from Swahili Village’s current spot, but it’s about a million times better than the present digs. Or, to be more precise, it’s about three times larger than the 45-seat restaurant at 10606 Baltimore Ave.

“It has everything going for it,” says Onyona during a phone interview. “It’s the right move.”

To celebrate the move, Swahili Village is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at the new location. Robinson Njeru Githae, the Kenyan ambassador to the United States, and other African dignitaries will attend the private function. They will get a sneak preview of the food Onyona plans to serve in his expanded space.

Kenyan cuisine, as I noted in the very first $20 Diner review, is influenced by native tribes, British colonialists and subcontinental Indians brought over to build railroads in the country. The fare is heavy on meat and fish, at least as practiced at Swahili Village on Baltimore Avenue. Onyona expects to add more masala vegetable dishes at the new spot.

“Most of the people [in Kenya] eat vegetables, because they can’t afford meat,” Onyona says. But here in the states, meat is far more affordable.

There won’t be any disruption of service, the owner promises. When the new Swahili Village opens June 10, the old one will shut down on the same day. Onyona will be able to feed many more diners at his 150-seat spot; he’s even talking about launching a food truck to bring Kenyan food to a wider audience.

Yet Onyona remains mystified on how to attract the customer he most wants to feed: President Barack Obama, whose father was a Kenyan native. The owner hopes the leader of the free world will make a trip to Swahili Village before his term ends in January.

“That’s what my eyes are set on,” Onyona says. “I want him to come out.”

washingtonpost.com

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