Changemakers: From line cook to CEO of a popular apron company

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From “Top Chef” to The Food Network shows to Martha Stewart, even if you don’t know Hedley & Bennett aprons, you know Hedley & Bennett. 

“Every major food company you can think of is probably wearing Hedley & Bennett, from Space X to Four Seasons, Yahoo, the kitchen commissaries at Google,” explained Ellen Bennett, the founder & CEO of Hedley & Bennett.   

Bennett was a 24-year-old line cook when she came up with the idea for the business.  She was making great food but wanted to feel great at the same time.  

“I wanted to make a uniform or apron that made people look and feel proper as they should when they are doing a job,” explained Bennett. “A couple of weeks after I made that decision, one of the chefs I worked for said, ‘Hey there is a girl who is going to make up aprons, do you want to buy one?’ and I was like, ‘wait, what!’” 

So, Bennett told the chef that she had an apron company and, just like that — with an idea, conviction, and an order for 48 aprons — Bennett served up Hedley & Bennett. Nine years later, those custom aprons are en empire. 

Bennett says making that transition from cook to CEO has been a long learning process. 

“I feel we are just getting started, but it took a lot of little, tiny steps where nobody knew who we were, nobody was excited about Hedley & Bennet. It was simply my idea and I was my own cheerleader,” she said.  

Bennett says her mother gave her the most important ingredient to the recipe for her success: to never say that you can’t.  

“I was raised by this incredible single Mexican mama who just showed up every day and I feel like she literally made something out of nothing always,” said Bennett. “I never focus on what I don’t have, I focus on what I do have.” 

In her new book, “Dream First, Details Later,” she says you’ll never know where to start, until you start. 

“There’s an infographic in the book where I list out all the things that I didn’t have, which was an MBA, a business degree, money, investors, etc.,” Bennett said. “But the list of things I had was much longer. It was things like grit and chutzpah, and commitment to look errors in the eye.”

Bennett says she wanted this book to share the early part of starting and growing her business, which she says is the hardest part.  

“That’s what this book is about, it’s about inspiring people to just do it. To just show up to try, to be willing to fail and they’re going to learn so much more, out there in the world, than thinking about it at home,” she explained. 

So how would Bennett describe her popular aprons in just one word? 

“Durable,” she said confidently, “They are durable and beautiful and resilient, just like Hedley & Bennett.” 

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