DC’s Only Black-Owned Fine Dining Restaurant Was Hit Hard During Pandemic

PUBLISHED: Sep 24, 2020 7:16 AM

2020 was supposed to be a good year for the Swahili Village.

The Kenyan restaurant, located in downtown Washington, D.C., was founded by Kevin Onyona. It’s the only upscale African restaurant in the area and the only Black-owned fine-dining establishments in the District.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The restaurant was forced to close its doors just 10 days after its grand opening. Onyona and his wife, Lynn Onyona, who is the general manager, invested more than $1 million in the restaurant.

As restaurants try to pivot by offering online orders, takeout, and delivery, Onyona said it has been challenging to stay afloat.

“Unless we get that really strong indoor dining, we were not built for just takeout. That restaurant is a fine-dining space where people come to enjoy the experience, the food, the music, the culture,” Onyona told the Washingtonian. “If this continues for another three or four months, I don’t think we’ll make it.”

Swahili Village is reportedly doing 10 percent of its projected sales and had to let their 65 employees go at the beginning of the pandemic, and now it’s down to six. The restaurant was too new to qualify for a lot of federal aid, such as the Paycheck Protection Program.

Swahili Village is trying to survive. The Onyonas recently launched all-you-can-eat brunch and have applied for permits for outdoor seating.

STUDY: 60 Percent of Businesses That Closed Due To Pandemic Won’t Be Reopening

A new study from Yelp shows that most businesses that closed during the pandemic are gone for good.

Yelp’s Economic Impact Report revealed that 97,966, or 60% of closed businesses, wouldn’t be reopening. 

Throughout the past six months, restaurants, bars, and nightlife venues are taking the hardest hit: 32,109 restaurants have closed, as of Aug. 31.

The number of restaurants forced to close permanently is slightly above Yelp’s total average, at 61%, as reported in CNBC.

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