Hedley & Bennett
It seemed like a bit of fun at first. Ellen Bennett wanted to look good while she worked. But then her colleagues wanted to look good too, so she shared the love. Word spread, Ellen hustled and before she knew it she was outfitting the industry, cornering an obscure, culinary niche market with high-quality, custom aprons. But that was just the beginning...
When Ellen had the idea of revolutionizing chef garb, she was already quite familiar with life back-of-house. She was working two high-end LA restaurant jobs and was also the personal chef for a family. Food was her life. But why was the kitchen always so drab? “My goal was to take the industry and flip it upside down,” said Ellen. She did this with her aprons, taking top-grade American canvas, European linens, Italian chambray, and raw Japanese selvage denim and customizing everything; from the color palette, to the adjustable straps, brass hardware, reinforced pockets, and more. “I didn’t sit around and think about it, I just leaped out the window and ran with it.”
Her business approach was grass roots, guerrilla warfare. In the morning she would show up to farmer’s markets and set up her aprons. At the end of the day she would pile everything into her Mini Cooper and drive straight to her line-chef job at Providence. Then she would show up, often uninvited, to culinary events and force people to take notice. Ellen was hustling. Her intense and assertive approach to the hustle was successful though, because she was listening too — hearing what people actually needed and wanted, as opposed to her own contrived idea of what she thought the market “needed”.
When the time came for Ellen and the company to start manufacturing full time she found a home on Broadway, in the heart of DTLA. “In a way, Downtown reminds me of Hedley & Bennett,” she said. “It’s not that Downtown just magically had a renaissance. People coming in built that and I feel like Hedley & Bennett is being built by people, and has experienced a similar renaissance — through people.” These people are the chefs and friends who supported her and helped spread the word, because as people heard about her product, her niche market grew.
Hedley & Bennett has inevitably evolved beyond “just aprons” now, manufacturing chef coats and a new range of shirts, designed collaboratively with Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of Otium. “We’re not just gonna be an apron company,” says Ellen. “We want to be the Apple of the culinary world.” This means continuing to bridge the gap between the culinary and lifestyle worlds, where products look amazing, but also work.
Today, Ellen’s huge new digs just south of the 10 freeway include a large, open showroom with a zip-line, an expansive and transparent manufacturing room where the entirety of Hedley & Bennett’s operations are housed, and office space. It’s not uncommon for friends to come and pull espresso shots, install pop-up ice-cream stalls, or even cook an intimate meal for the squad in the kitchen either. The factory is always open and Ellen encourages people to come through and see it all for themselves.
Hedley & Bennett is really just one big party. Ellen’s the hostess and everyone’s invited.
Written by Steve Day
Photographed by Oriana Koren