This Former Line Cook Created the Go-To Apron for Celebrity Chefs
If you’re a foodie who spends her time downloading food-focused podcasts and scrolling Instagram for cute AF food tattoos, tune in to this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job with former cook-turned-apron pro Ellen Bennett. Bennett, while working as a line cook at Bäco Mercat and two-Michelin-starred Providence in Los Angeles, knew that the flimsy cook’s apron she was wearing needed a major upgrade. She didn’t know how to sew or run her own business, but she balanced her line cook job while researching how to redesign and revolutionize the chef’s apron and waiter attire. In time, Hedley & Bennett was born, and the company now sells chef gear to restaurants such as Ink, Momofuko, and Shake Shack, and boasts notables like Martha Stewart and Mario Batali as fans.
Meet the Chef Gear Pro: Ellen Bennett
In the company’s 17,000-square-foot apron factory in downtown LA, Bennett can be found checking on orders and enthusiastically examining designs with her team of Hedley & Bennett employees. Before she became the CEO of a multi-million dollar business, Bennett took her very first order for 48 aprons while she was working as a cook. She knew that aprons could be more functional, more fashionable, and better quality, so she asked her head chef if she could make new ones. “I could’ve lost my job. I took a risk every step of the way. You have to embrace risks with a smile and make them happen,” says Bennett.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Ellen Bennett: Exercise at 7am, when I can do it. I always get up and feed Oliver, my pet pig, before anything. And then my fiance Casey and I take turns feeding our pet chickens. Brush my teeth, squeeze in a morning huddle with Casey before we get ready to go. He has his own company and we talk about what we’re going to do that day. Once I’m in the car, I jump on the phone with my assistant, Liv, to go through my day.
B+C: What inspired you to start your company?
EB: What inspired me was the power of decisions. For example, when I was younger and decided to run a marathon, I got a badass outfit and the day I put it on was the day I decided I could run the NY Marathon. It all started internally. The idea that I could give that same sort of feeling or empowerment to anyone in the kitchen and beyond the kitchen was something that lit a fire within me. I said, “I’m going to change the way people feel in the culinary world.”
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
EB: I challenge myself by constantly signing up to do things that are out of our comfort zone. Like, earlier this year, we decided to throw a day-long conference called the School of Hustle, where we invited hundreds of entrepreneurs around the country to join us at the Apron Factory, alongside Instagram. We’re not in the business of conferences, yet it was such a fun and neat challenge to do. On occasion, I’ll sign up for a ridiculous, crazy, over-the-top physical challenge, like a 300-mile bike ride, or a triathlon or marathon — all things that have happened in the last few years! Extreme sports push you so significantly past your comfort zone that you prove to yourself that you can do it, beyond the point that you think you can. I apply that way of thinking to business, because when you’re at a point where you think you can’t go any more and all hell is breaking loose, [you] can still keep in the back of [your] head that it will work.
B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.
EB: I’d say I’ve built a strong group of people around me who are: a) not a**holes, b) are super positive, and c) don’t bring me or other people down. I think it’s super important to remove negative people from your life. Additionally, have people around you that push you, who motivate you, and who you admire, and make you want to do more in the world.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
EB: To always say, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “What do you think?” Three very basic things, but they help make people feel heard, feel like they’re appreciated, and it’s a sign of respect for other people.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
EB: I love that, while our company may sell aprons and workwear for the culinary space and now tons of other industries as well, what we’re really selling is so special: We’re selling confidence and dignity and a sense of pride for anyone and everyone who’s working to make their dreams come true. And if every person who wears Hedley & Bennett can raise their head up a little higher, do a better job, and have more trust in themselves, backed up with incredible action, that’s so much better than doing business just to do business. It makes it so that I have Hedley & Bennett with a purpose. Not just to have it.
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
EB: Martha Stewart. Whether you like her or not, she’s been literally forging a path in the world of entrepreneurship way before it was cool to be an entrepreneur and even before it was acceptable to be a female entrepreneur. She’s one of those people who has done so much for so many men and women, as far as inspiration goes.
Eleanor Roosevelt. She was super controversial for her time, in a good way. She had a big stance on racial issues, she was super involved with civil rights, she had a ton of chutzpah, and she’s one of those women who was a pioneer of speaking out and taking action. I even named one of my chickens after her!
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it would be?
EB: I think too many times I’ve seen an almost unconscious level of shame from women to talk about what they’re doing or to stand up and ask for what they have the rights to have. Or even just talking about what they’re working on. There’s a shamelessness that I see with men where they’ll tell the world what they’re working on and then we watch them become great and successful at it as they go. As women, we have to embrace our accomplishments and unapologetically go about wanting to be successful. It’s okay to be shameful and apologetic about stealing or hurting people, but not about getting out into the world and pushing your own mental boundaries and becoming successful. It’s natural for people to think that going out and doing something that others aren’t doing would be perceived by some as odd. Which is why you should always be passionate about what you’re doing, because if you’re not, you’re f***ed! If you’re only doing it because 20 other people are doing it, that’s not forging your own path. Figure out what you’re good at and become the best at it! Turn that into your gift to the world. Don’t worry about becoming the best at being someone else. Become the best you.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Bennett portraits via Lily Glass)