Local entrepreneur Rachel Sonn supports local business owners.
When Rachel Sonn arrived in New Orleans at 19, a fresh graduate of the University of Oregon’s English literature program, she did what so many young transplants do — she got a job serving tables. “Although I had a degree, it was pretty much impossible to get a ‘real job,’” she remembers. “I waited tables for a long time and then slowly moved into hospitality management.”
That path would lead Sonn to managing bigger and bigger locations, including banquet venues at hotels, and working with the Convention Center.
However, after several years, her demanding schedule took a toll on her well-being. “Those hours are great when you’re in your 20s, but not even a little beyond that,” she says. She found a new role working with Regus, an international company that provides serviced office space, and spent nearly five years managing the company’s New Orleans facility.
But Sonn was still waiting for a chance to become her own boss. “I kind of have always been a person who’s not very good at working for other people,” she says. She knew she wanted to open her own serviced office space, supporting small business owners, entrepreneurs and other professionals. “It was just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity,” she says. “It had to be built out correctly — the right size; the right location. I felt like I really wanted to offer something a little different than what Regus offered. I wanted it to have a different feel and attract a different type of client.”
In 2013, Sonn found the right opportunity to open Icon Offices at 935 Gravier St. in The New Orleans Exchange Centre building. The 15,000-square-foot space includes 47 private, furnished offices; free shared conference rooms; a fitness center; and a staffed reception area. Sonn aims to support a growing movement of businesses taking advantage of technology to reduce overhead and simplify their operations. “For example, a law firm does not need a library anymore,” she says. “A lot of bigger companies are realizing they’re spending so much on overhead for full-time office space.”
Attracting small-business owners, lawyers and other independent workers, Icon took off. “The most gratifying part is the way people have responded to the space,” Sonn says. As of November 2014, she had just one office left for rent — and is currently expanding into additional space in the same building. “I’m taking a conference room that was a little too big and didn’t get enough use, and building that out into more offices,” she says. “Longer-term, there’s some thoughts in my head about adding a second location.”
Though she’s experienced the “typical first-year challenges” of opening a business, Sonn says the benefits of being her own boss are just as satisfying as she anticipated. “Getting my time back has probably been the most pleasant part,” she says. “I really have so much freedom to move my schedule the way that I want … I find myself working out and reading a lot more than I used to.”
She also spends more time with her son, a second-grade student at Isidore Newman School. “There are a lot more days when I can go pick him up myself and spend the afternoon with him,” she says. An avid traveler, she’s been keeping a special family trip under wraps until the holidays. “My next trip is to the Dominican Republic with my little boy,” she says. iconofficesneworleans.com