“Our upbringings and our ancestral history really defined how we show up in the world and how we show up for our clients.”
This philosophy of diversity, compassion, and inclusion has always been at the heart of La Union Studio, a BIPOC architectural design and interior design studio based in Seattle, Washington.
Since the firm opened its doors 5 years ago, the co-founders, Sonia-Lynn Abenojar and Sergio Max Legon-Talamoni, have been taking on projects that not only reflect the diverse cultural identities of their clients but also their financial realities.
“As fellow small business owners, we understand the challenges our partners and clients face in the world of so much uncertainty,” said Legon-Talamoni. “We know what’s at stake and we know how daunting it can be for a small business to take on the load of a buildout, or not understand bureaucracy processes or deal with landlords and general contractors. So what we do now is fold in learning experiences from others and find relationship-building opportunities to build community trust.”
This has all led to La Union Studio’s latest collaboration with the City of Seattle. The firm is now working with the Office of Economic Development to provide technical assistance and support to small businesses through the City’s Commercial Space Consultant Program. As part of this collaboration, the La Union Studio team works with qualified small business owners in various capacities from developing budget outlines to space planning and architectural design to project management and completing the buildout process.
“We founded our studio on values of advocacy and support and celebrating the cultural diversity of our small business community in the City,” said Abenojar.
“The pandemic amplified the needs of our vulnerable entrepreneur and small business economy, especially those in the food service industry, so we are proud to be part of a program that is aiming to address the issues our clients and partners are facing.”
One of the businesses that is currently working with La Union Studio under this program is King Donuts located at 7820 Rainier Avenue South. The Chinese Cambodian family-owned donut shop recently moved to a new storefront which used to be a bakery.
According to the owner, Hong Chhuor, the space needed quite a bit of work to operate more efficiently. So his family decided to apply for funds from the city and they were awarded the money late last year. Along with the funding, the business, which specializes in fresh old school & hand-cut donuts, also received advisory help from the Commercial Space Consultants.
“Working with Sonia and Sergio is wonderful. They are not only great listeners but they are really knowledgeable and they make us feel like we are in great hands,” said Chhuor.
“Running any kind of food service business, it’s a 24-7 job and we have our hands full with things like menus and products and we don’t have the time to do other things like design planning or even applying for permits. So having a partner to work with us on this is so important.”
Construction at King Donuts is set to be completed this summer. Another Seattle-area eatery that has already seen their vision become reality with the help of Sonia & Sergio as their Commercial Space Consultants is OHSUN Banchan Deli & Cafe. The 100% Gluten free Korean restaurant opened in the Pioneer Neighborhood earlier this year. Owner, Sara Upshaw, said she has been following La Union Studio and their work for awhile even before working together.
“I had been stalking them on Instagram because I just love their work!,” said Upshaw. “But yes, when I started working with them through the City’s program, I was really impressed. They are just very purposeful and I was confident in their skill set. They were instrumental in helping us get the permits we needed from the health department. As an Asian American business owner, Sonia & Sergio were the perfect partners. We speak the same language and they took so much off my plate as an outsider coming into the food business for the first time.”
Other local businesses that have gotten consulting assistance from the La Union Studio’s collaboration with the City include The Beacon, Kaffa Coffee & Wine Bar, Tabletop Village.
“We are so grateful to work one-on-one with business owners all over the city,” said Legon-Talamoni. “We learn from them as much as they do from us. There’s a beautiful science and art to operating a business and learning about the differences and similarities with each and everyone allows us to create enriched spaces and places that celebrate the personality and identity of our clients and partners. Through this role, we hope to amplify the stories and cultural perspectives of our creative economy, to put faces behind the businesses we patronize and to advocate for the very survival of their livelihoods.”
For more information on the Commercial Space Consultant services through the City of Seattle, go to https://www.seattle.gov/office-of-economic-development/commercial-affordability/commercial-space-consultants-program