An Apron Side Hustle Turned Into a Multimillion-Dollar Brand

For Ellen Bennett, founding father of kitchenware model Hedley & Bennett, meals has been a life-long love. “I am half-Mexican and half-English, and so I grew up with this very uncommon mixture of consuming tamales and caldo de pollo, and issues which might be very Mexican, alongside shepherd’s pie and tea with my English grandpa,” she tells Entrepreneur.

However earlier than Bennett constructed the apron enterprise named for her English and Mexican households, she attended culinary college in Mexico Metropolis, the place it was extra inexpensive than within the U.S. She took modeling jobs and translation gigs to help herself there, then moved again to Los Angeles, the place she was raised, to work at a few of the metropolis’s greatest eating places.

Picture Credit score: Shayan Asgharnia. Ellen Bennett.

“I’ve all the time put one foot in entrance of the opposite in direction of the factor that I need to do, by no means cease and do not stare too lengthy as a result of you then’ll get scared and will not do it,” Bennett says. “So I hold myself transferring all the time and without end. And I really feel like that has been one of many profitable traits for me: I do not analyze — I simply do.”

In 2012, at 24, Bennett was doing an entire lot: She labored as a line prepare dinner at Windfall, which boasts a two-star Michelin score, and at Bäco Mercat, pulling in $22 an hour between the 2 jobs. Within the mornings, she additionally labored as a private chef for a household. “It was across the clock,” she remembers, including that 14-hour days inside the trade have been par for the course.

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“If I could make the [equivalent] uniform piece of dignity [and] roll [that] into this world of cooking, perhaps I alter this entire trade.”

Regardless of the “hustle” of her day-to-day, Bennett had an enormous concept, one which served as a “humorous by line” from her life as a “hardcore line prepare dinner” to the “different life” she led — in Mexico Metropolis she’d typically donned fits for work occasions, and as an avid runner with marathons below her belt, she knew a factor or two about athletic apparel that would stand as much as the trials of the game.

“So I mixed the 2 in my head,” Bennett says, “and I believed, Man, if I could make the [equivalent] uniform piece of dignity [and] roll [that] into this world of cooking, perhaps I alter this entire trade. As a result of we’re getting our asses handed to us. We work so onerous, [and] all people seems to be like shit.

Just a few weeks later, a chef at one of many eating places the place Bennett labored offered her with the right alternative to begin her aspect hustle. He stated he was going to order aprons for everyone, and Bennett, who’d been considering nonstop about chef coats and numerous features of the uniform, “blurted out in Ellen Bennett vogue” that she had an apron firm.

Picture Credit score: Courtesy of Hedley & Bennett.

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In fact, Bennett did not have a enterprise at that time, however she stated she’d been engaged on an concept — “and by working, I meant it was in my head,” she admits. Nonetheless, she managed to persuade the chef to position an order for 40 aprons, and with “completely nothing aside from willpower and chutzpah,” she “began the entire rattling factor.” Bennett confirmed up anyplace she might discover cooks who is perhaps keen on her aprons — from farmers’ markets to Eater LA occasions.

“I might stroll as much as individuals and simply be like, ‘Hey, I am a prepare dinner at Windfall. I work there, and I’ve an apron firm. Can I present you what I am engaged on?'” Bennett says. “So it was very a lot from a spot of humility, however I additionally was shameless about speaking to anybody. And I by no means hid behind a pc ready for individuals to electronic mail me. I simply stood in entrance of you, and should you had ears, I used to be going to speak to you.”

“‘Oh my god, Japanese denim? That is cool. American canvas? Hell yeah.'”

Bennett did not have a stitching background, however she’d all the time cherished design, so her course of in these early days “was really scrappy.” She’d sit down with cooks and hearken to their ache factors (which she knew all too nicely as an trade skilled), drilling down on the finer but essential particulars that so typically went ignored within the apron sport — like sturdy material.

Picture Credit score: Courtesy of Hedley & Bennett.

Rapidly, Bennett leaned into “elevating the core supplies,” very like how a Michelin-starred restaurant raises the bar for meals. “We’re nonetheless simply promoting meals,” Bennett explains, “however it’s the very best fish you have ever had on this planet as a result of we sourced it from the very best place. So I utilized that very same logic.” And Bennett’s aprons have been an immediate hit.

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“These cooks obtained actually nerdy about it,” Bennett says. “They’re like, ‘Oh my god, Japanese denim? That is cool. American canvas? Hell yeah’. After which, as a substitute of utilizing plastic {hardware}, I would be like, ‘What if we use brass {hardware}?’ They usually’d be like, ‘Sure, I really like that.’ So I primarily simply collaborated and listened.”

Now, Hedley & Bennett is an eight-figure model, and should you’ve tuned in to any cooking present or present about cooking, you have little question seen it in motion: 70% of cooks on the Meals Community put on Hedley & Bennett aprons, and almost each chef who seems on High Chef and The Bear is donning one too, in line with knowledge supplied by the model. Hedley & Bennett additionally boasts partnerships with The Beatles, NASA and Crocs, amongst others, and has since expanded into basic kitchenware, together with knives, potholders and extra.

“Even should you exit and lift $50 million, you continue to should construct neighborhood to get clients.”

Though Bennett’s apron concept resonated with different cooks instantly and has seen huge progress prior to now decade-plus, she stresses that Hedley & Bennett was removed from an in a single day success — and that, realistically, there is not any such factor.

The model did not have any exterior funding. As an alternative, she grew Hedley & Bennett “the old-school approach,” reinvesting each penny again into the enterprise as she constructed “brick by brick,” “road by road” and “buyer by buyer,” securing that important model loyalty alongside the way in which. And the individuals she offered her aprons to at first stay clients, Bennett notes: “There is a love that exists that you would be able to’t purchase from an Instagram advert.”

“Even should you exit and lift $50 million, you continue to should construct neighborhood to get clients,” Bennett says. “You simply occur to have more cash within the financial institution. Are you keen to indicate up and discuss to individuals? Are you keen to pay attention, pivot, adapt your product to them and what they really want? Everybody goes by the identical struggles. It is simply what number of assets you possibly can throw at it. And since I had restricted assets, I obtained much more inventive than I might have if I had all the cash on this planet.”

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What’s extra, Hedley & Bennett’s preliminary business-to-business (B2B) mannequin meant a “sluggish and regular” strategy that benefited from “brutally trustworthy cooks” who did not mince phrases when it got here to letting Bennett know what was and wasn’t working. The suggestions was invaluable, however regardless of an inflow of requests for added merchandise, Hedley & Bennett remained “hyper-focused” on placing out the right customizable apron — till the pandemic hit. We have to really create a systemized streamlined menu of how we outfit these eating places in a approach that we are able to scale it, Bennett realized.

So Hedley & Bennett included a direct-to-consumer strategy. Inside one month, the model went from delivery all the things internally to delivery with third-party logistics (3PL). “It was not clear or clean or something like that,” Bennett says. “It was simply the best factor for the enterprise, and the entire world could not meet in particular person. So it was like, ‘How will we get it on-line as quick as doable?'”

From there, Bennett thought-about all the suggestions they’d obtained — and which merchandise it made sense to sort out subsequent. “We’re like, ‘Okay, nicely, what is the pure extension from aprons that is a vital, as a result of we do not like making tchotchkes.'” Bennett remembers. “We’re all about longevity, high quality on stuff you want, not identical to a lemon squeezer, which is okay, however you possibly can squeeze a lemon along with your fingers, too.” That led the model to knives.

Picture Credit score: Shelby Moore.

“There’s nothing mistaken with taking longer to construct one thing nice.”

Hedley & Bennett’s journey has been prolonged and stuffed with “little peaks and valleys” trending upward total, however as a result of she’s “such an action-oriented particular person,” Bennett says she not often dwells on what she did not do alongside the way in which.

Nonetheless, at first, Bennett does want she’d taken a step again to worth herself and her contributions the way in which that different individuals did. “I do not imply that in an ego-driven approach,” she says. “It is not about being like I am the good, I am the very best, however it’s merely respecting your self for the work that you just did and saying, ‘Not solely did I construct the desk — I constructed the chair that I obtained to take a seat in on the desk. I made this.'”

Picture Credit score: Evan Robinson.

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And her greatest recommendation for different entrepreneurs who need to take their large concept from aspect hustle to multimillion-dollar model?

“I am an enormous believer within the lengthy sport,” she says. “You can begin one thing out of your own home with no cash and have a viable, worthwhile enterprise that you’re a majority proprietor of a few years later. And that’s superior. There’s nothing mistaken with taking longer to construct one thing nice. I do know our entire lives are oriented in direction of velocity and the way shortly issues develop and [becoming] a unicorn, however you could be a long-game unicorn too.”

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