by Dominic Blackwell-Cooper
At 19, LA-based chef Ellen Bennett moved to her native country of Mexico for four years to study restaurant administration. Now 25, she's back in California, working under chef Michael Cimarusti at the two-Michelin-starred Providence Restaurant on Melrose. After working in the restaurant business for some time she became fed up with the drab, boring uniforms she was required to wear and decided to do something about it. Together with Mohawk General Store owner Kevin Carney, Bennett has launched a line of custom unisex aprons that fuse style with the design elements needed in the kitchen.
We spoke with Bennett to learn more about the line dubbed Hedley & Bennett.
Tell us more about how your aprons came to be and how your business works.
Five months ago I was chewing on the idea of creating chef coats, something more comfortable to wear at work. But after working through a few samples I realized a people don't have a quality apron.
My aprons are handmade with high quality fabric without the expensive price. I come from the kitchen, so I know what the kitchen wants. You get to pick the fabric, neck strap, pockets and I deliver it to you in a wooden basket with flowers. I'm a small business, so I want to make sure people know their aprons are handmade and the person who made them cares.
Who was your first client?
Joseph Centeno, owner of Bäco Mercat in downtown Los Angeles—he ordered 70 aprons. 70! I went from zero sold to having to scramble to find everything!
What fabrics do you use?
I started with American canvas but I wasn't satisfied—they didn't have the extra "bang" I was looking for, so I expanded. I now have 40 different samples—everything from selvedge Japanese denim and Italian chambray to Japanese bull denim and herringbone. Oh, and American canvas—I use it for the pockets and other accents.
What are your design influences?
Kate Spade—I love the colors. They're unique and bright. I'm a fan of minimalism. You should see the aprons I designed for this restaurant Animal—black, infused with gold background and gold pinstripes. They're pretty amazing!
Are all the aprons custom-made?
I'd say 90%. I don't charge extra to customize. I want my product to be affordable to anyone who works in a kitchen and wants to wear nice stuff. I like to sit with the client and design an apron that is functional for them—pockets for pens, iPhones, utensils. I cater to whatever the client needs. I had someone the other day ask me to make them an apron with "room to grow"—he's a chef, so he eats!
What's the future for Hedley & Bennett?
To become a company that caters to rich and not so rich—to restaurants big and small. I'm slowly trying to infiltrate color and fashion into the kitchen and front of the house. I want to get chefs who wouldn't be my clients to be my clients! My supreme goal is to sell internationally. There are restaurants everywhere, so I want to accommodate anyone who wants quality, custom aprons.
Hedley & Bennett aprons can be found at their online shop. For custom orders, contact Bennett directly.