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Controversy over Ruto’s visit to Swahili Village restaurant in US

President William Ruto, who is on an extensive tour of the US, visited the Swahili Village restaurant in New Jersey, United States, owned by a Kenyan businessman named Kevin Onyona.

During the tour, the Head of State lauded the businessman for establishing such kind of enterprise in the US, adding the move is worth celebrating.

“We’re very proud as Kenyans, and I’m very proud as a Kenyan leader that you hustled your way into this investment. We have come here to see what you’re doing, and you’re doing very well. The food is awesome, the ambiance is on another level, so congratulations,” said the President.

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However, it has emerged that the owner of the restaurant has a controversial recent past.

On August 22, 2023, a plaintiff filed a lawsuit through the District of Columbia Attorney General’s Office accusing Mr. Onyona of stealing from his employees, including servers, hosts, food runners, bussers, and bartenders.

The Kenyan businessman was given 21 days to respond to the case, in which the court found him in breach of five sections of the law, namely minimum wage violations, overtime violations, sick and safe leave violations, employer records and notices violations, and wage payment and collection violations.

According to the complainant Onyona who is the Swahili Village DC’s founder and Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”), and Emad Shoeb, the Chief Operating Officer compensated employees exclusively through tips and in amounts far below the minimum wage.

“The Restaurant regularly pocketed worker tips, by demanding workers turn over their tips and keeping a large portion or the entire amount. It did not provide overtime pay to employees when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. It never provided employees with the paid sick leave to which they were entitled, even though employees were showing up for work in person during the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic. And when employees complained, it reprimanded or ignored them,” some of the complainants read.

The drama started a few weeks after the restaurant was opened in March 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak that forced outlets to close in accordance with the guidelines from the authority.

“Defendants emailed their staff promising to send direct deposits for the payments they were owed for work they had performed thus far. Many employees never received this compensation. Some employees showed up at the restaurant to demand their compensation but were turned away. Some employees appealed to individual managers, including Shoeb, explaining their needs to make rent and feed their children. Their requests were never answered.”