By Besha Rodell
Hedley & Bennett’s Ellen Bennett has created a runaway success with her beautiful, durable aprons.
If Ellen Bennett weren’t the world’s first celebrity apron designer, she’d be the world’s first something else. The 28-year-old founder and owner of Hedley & Bennett has the kind of irrepressible energy that makes you believe she could turn lead into gold if she put her mind to it. What she did put her mind to was creating the perfect uniform for kitchen staff, and in four years—with no sewing or design background—she’s turned that goal into a brand that already borders on iconic. In 2012, Ellen was a line cook; today, she owns her own factory.
But Hedley & Bennett’s success is about more than a can-do attitude. The company has tapped into the zeitgeist of the restaurant world right at a time when cooks are becoming more visible, both literally and figuratively.
Beyond the actual food, this industry has become an arbiter of style and taste. Open kitchens are now standard in many trendy restaurants, making the cooks part of the design. As a result, the uniforms of servers are now given much more consideration in this new era of upscale casual, and it’s that attention to aesthetic that continues to be a guiding principle for Ellen. And food as a broader trend has meant that the wardrobe of the professional cook is seeping into the fashion of the home kitchen. Who wants to wear a starched white chef coat while baking holiday pies? Hedley & Bennett offers the home cook professional level kitchen wear that is both more stylish and more useful than traditional coats and aprons.
Sitting in a sunny office that overlooks the floor of the Hedley & Bennett factory (employees call the office “the tree house” because of its lofty perch atop a wooden staircase), Ellen credits her extreme can-do attitude to her upbringing in Glendale, California, as the only daughter of a single mother.
“My mom is Mexican, and she raised me in this really amazing way. She gave me a lot of freedom, but put certain limits in place: Don’t do drugs, don’t wear make-up. Don’t shave your legs. But you can drive to school illegally as long as you don’t take the interstate!” Ellen laughs. “She told me I could do anything, as long as I was a good person along the way.” But the long hours her mother worked also prompted Ellen to grow up quickly, doing the shopping and cooking beginning at age 14, using recipes she found on the internet.
“I vividly remember getting a bagels recipe off the interwebs,” Ellen says. “I didn’t read the serving size, and I ended up making like 12 dozen bagels for my mom. She came home to a kitchen with literally heaps of bagels everywhere! But there was a commitment on my side; I started, and I wasn’t going to stop until all the bagels were done.”
After high school, Ellen spent four years in Mexico City, going to culinary and restaurant management school and doing “not your average jobs,” like announcing the lottery numbers on television. When she returned to Los Angeles, she pursued a cooking career, and eventually wound up splitting her week between the Lazy Ox Canteen, which was run at the time by Chef Josef Centeno, and Providence, one of L.A.’s most expensive and respected restaurants.