Swahili Village, a renowned Kenyan fine-dining restaurant in DC, has been sued by the DC Attorney General’s Office for allegedly stealing wages from hundreds of its employees.

The M Street outlet is said to have cheated its servers, hosts, food runners, bussers and bartenders of their wages including paying them as little as $5 an hour, including tips.

Swahili Village, which is owned by Kenyan Kevin Onyona and Emad Shoeb, is accused by the DC AG of neglecting to pay its workers for overtime and sick leave as required by the law.

According to the AG, Onyona and Shoeb systematically and unrestrainedly defied the city’s legislation on tipped minimum wage and other protection measures set to protect workers.

The lawsuit claims Swahili Village pocketed large amounts of tips and paid some employees exclusively using tips even as the restaurant added a 20 per cent gratuity to all checks.

The AG says the total wages paid to workers at the popular restaurant were far below DC’s minimum and tipped minimum wages, with some workers being underpaid by up to $5,000.

Most of the employees at the restaurant are African immigrants and the establishment is reported to cater to influential customers, most of them being international clients.

“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,” said DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb in a statement.

The DC Attorney General’s office interviewed more than a dozen Swahili Village employees as it conducted its extended pre-suit investigation after receiving a tip on the ongoings.

According to the damaging lawsuit, Onyona and Shoeb did not keep regular payroll records and this left the workers without clarity on how their pay and deductions were computed.

The lawsuit claims some employees clocked more than 60 hours of work per week minus overtime pay with the executives reprimanding workers for missing work owing to illness.

Swahili Village DC is known to host African dignitaries and diplomats and sells famed Kenyan delicacies like nyama choma, goat stew, as well as the whole tilapia in coconut sauce dish.

Onyona originally opened the Swahili Village at College Park in 2009 then relocated to a bigger space at Beltsville years later before opening the M Street location in March 2020.

He later expanded by opening another location in Newark, New Jersey in 2021, and projected to establish new Swahili Village locations in Manhattan and Tysons Corner.

After laying off 65 workers during the 2020 pandemic, the restaurant recovered in 2021 hiring 30 new staff, but Onyona and Shoeb are said to have continued stiffing workers.

The DC AG’s office was enabled to start enforcing wage theft penalties in 2017 and has since probed more than 75 employers, among them several restaurant and hospitality businesses.