At 25 years old Ellen Bennett was a cook at a 2-Michelin-Star restaurant in Los Angeles; yet she was still tying on the same $5 apron found in every diner and pub along Hollywood Boulevard. So she took her modest $300 savings and turned it into the largest gourmet apron manufacturer in the world. Now the founder and CEO at Hedley & Bennett—a brand beloved by the likes of Martha Stewart and Momofuku’s David Chang—this culinary entrepreneur explains how you, too, can jumpstart your own idea with charisma and heart.
When Ellen Bennett ran the 2012 New York Marathon, she realized something: she and her restaurant coworkers were athletes, and like athletes, they needed a uniform—functional and beautiful. With little more than a unique idea and a personal constitution to “wake up and fight,” Bennett swapped cooking for sewing to complete her first order. Now, Hedley & Bennett is more than an apron company. By the time she was 30, Bennett had transformed a “better apron idea” into a culinary lifestyle brand, attracting interest from major brands like Samsung, Le Creuset, AMEX, Vans and more.
“Ellen Bennett launched an apron company not knowing how to sew and not knowing how to run a business. Now she has the world, so to speak, by the strings.”— The Los Angeles Times
True to her cooking background, Bennett is not afraid to get her apron a little dirty, and she’ll enthusiastically show you how what she accomplished isn’t limited to aprons. “You could be making bulletproof vehicles,” she says. Regardless of the idea, entrepreneurship takes grit, determination, and finding the help you need to bring your project to fruition. From candidly breaking down her self-starting attitude—“If the front door isn’t open, climb in through the window”—to opening up about the “non-sexy parts of being an entrepreneur,” Bennett pulls the veil back on what it means to start your own business in her colorful, funny talks.
Today, Bennett’s must-have aprons are found in thousands of restaurants, and she’s expanded her line to include chef coats, work shirts, and kitchen linens. Hedley & Bennett is stocked everywhere from artisanal kitchenware company Williams Sonoma to organic grocer Whole Foods, and Bennett’s success story—and entrepreneurial insights—have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, and The Today Show. Additionally, Bennett serves as an investor and Creative at large for The Fire House Hotel, an independent boutique hotel and LA destination serving New American cuisine.