Ellen Bennett: Hedley & Bennett

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"Everything is changing so quickly that you’re better off to try, fail two times, and get it right on the third..."

Words:
Chelsea Sonksen

Photographs: Courtney Perkins

Perhaps you have noticed that almost every chef or server in this city is wearing an exquisitely designed apron with an ampersand in the corner. These beauties were designed by Ellen Bennett and fabricated by the “Apron Squad” at Hedley & Bennett’s Wonka-like factory. (Yes, the factory has a zip line and a bright yellow tunnel slide.)

Ellen founded Hedley & Bennett when she was just 24. After studying Restaurant Administration in Mexico City and using her savings to travel the world, Ellen came home to LA and began working at the Michelin-star-rated Providence and downtown LA restaurant Bäco Mercat. She quickly became fed up with the terrible quality of restaurant aprons, so decided to do something about it and make her own. The owner of Bäco Mercat promptly purchased 40 new aprons from her. With that, Hedley & Bennett had their first order.

Since then, Ellen has worked with countless chefs to design custom aprons. Each apron is made in Los Angeles and constructed only of the highest quality American canvas, Japanese denim, and European cotton. Today Hedley & Bennett aprons are worn in more than 2,000 kitchens around the world. And, with their new kids’ collection, little ones are donning them too. The sky is the limit for this spunky woman and her burgeoning apron empire.

Did you have any strong female role models during your childhood?
My mother. She got divorced when I was quite young, and I saw her go through hell in a handbasket to give us everything we needed. That really taught me that I can always push harder no matter how bad I think something might be. You do get through it as long as you don’t give up, but smiling helps too.

Today, who is your role model?
Danny Meyer and Thomas Keller

Did you have a mentor in the beginning of your career?
My uncle, Ted. He owns high-end toy stores, and I went to him with questions when I didn’t even know where to begin. I also have a lot of business books that supplement my knowledge.

How has your relationship with that mentor changed as your business has grown?
Because I have more experience under my belt now, I don’t call my mentors about every little thing. But I do have to maintain a sense of humility about what I know and what I don’t, so I can continue to ask questions and push myself to keep learning. You can have something all figured out, and the next day the market changes, and you have to shift with the times. Life is crazy like that, so I think being totally open to new ways of doing things, new technology, and new knowledge is key to surviving in this nutty world.”

What was the biggest challenge in starting your company?
Being my own cheerleader day in and day out when there weren’t any clients or orders to confirm that I was on the right track. Deep down I knew this was right for me, but I had to believe it first before anyone else could believe it.

What advice do you have for young women who want to start theirown business?
Just start. Don’t overthink it and spend two years planning. Everything is changing so quickly that you’re better off to try, fail two times, and get it right on the third than to spend those years working on the theoretical side of your business plan”

What is your greatest weakness?
I want to be part of everything, but there’s only one of me.

How do you overcome it?
Delegation. And hiring a strong staff that hold their roles well so I don’t worry that the ball will get dropped.

What nourishes you?
Swimming is tremendous for me. I am doing a triathlon in March, and all I can think about is doing laps at the pool. It’s like you’re in your own little bubble where nothing affects you. It’s just you against the world, and I like that.