Meet Ellen Bennett, the line cook turned CEO and Founder of Hedley & Bennett, fulfilling #ApronSquadGoals in kitchens across the globe. What started out in her living room as a one woman operation, has, over the course of three years, exploded into a 14,000 sq. ft factory and showroom outfitting more than 4,000 restaurants worldwide. And she’s just heating up.
As a precocious child of divorce, Bennett nurtured a love of cooking from a young age. While mom worked full-time to provide for her two daughters, Bennett would care for her little sister, clean, and develop new recipes. As soon as she was old enough, Bennett moved to Mexico City to attend culinary school, where she paid her way by taking odd jobs, including a stint as Mexican lottery announcer. Upon returning to the states, the apronista worked as a line cook at Baco Mercat and 2 Michelin star-rated Providence. It was there that she noticed the shoddy uniforms she and her peers wore daily and decided to come up with a more functional, stylish alternative — even if she wasn’t sure quite how she’d do it. “My chef at the time asked if I would buy an apron if he had some made, I just jumped in and told him I would make the aprons he wanted! I had no company and no clue how to even sew. But I was determined and was going to make it happen. I cooked breakfast for people to get them to make me a pattern, and found someone who would teach me how to sew.”
In the early days, Bennett was scrappy. She peddled her aprons at the local farmer’s market every weekend and barged her way into some of the best-known culinary establishments uninvited. “I didn't let anything get in my way. If I fell, I picked myself up again and kept going. I learned something new every day and worked through every challenge. It wasn't easy but if you persist, anything is possible.” After two years of side-hustling while cooking up a storm in kitchens, she finally quit both jobs to grow Hedley & Bennett, which she started without any outside funding, per the advice of Martha Stewart.
“I started as a line cook and now I'm a CEO, so that's a huge change...I have so many people around me that I work with that are part of my team and that I am responsible for, I have to keep evolving as that evolves,” says Bennett, who names Julia Child, Willa Wonka, and her Jewish uncle Ted among her greatest influences. Once a month, Bennett meets up with fellow female founders (including the ladies of Bando and Sugar Paper) to dish on wins, losses, and how to be better bosses. “The way that I communicate our message is from a place of inclusion....it’s a "you can and you will" type of attitude and that's a really important message for all women, but also just for anyone to have in life. Because I started my business out of my living room and built it to what it is today, I want other females to know that it can be done.”
So, what’s on the menu for Ellen Bennett? Hint: aprons are just the appetizer. In addition to writing a book, growing her company to 200+ employees, and creating a worldwide community of Apron Squad members, she wants to use her platform to inspire others to chase their dreams as she did. “Seeing someone like Evan Kleinman put on our women's chef coats and saying it ‘it’s perfect,’ or a little kid who says they are gonna be a chef when they grow up — it gives me the same rush I get when I'm cooking in the kitchen.”