583
11 min 15 sec

Line Chef Makes Millions Cooking Up Apron Empire

A chef sets out to reinvent the humble apron, growing it to a multi-million-dollar company while still working in restaurants at night.
High Profit Manufacturing Product Retail

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What It's About

An apron empire built for chefs by chefs.

Business Model
Product
Skills Required
Design & Experimentation
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
High

Words of Wisdom

Ellen thinks that it’s really important that you find your own path, and follow it because no two paths are exactly the same. She says that we can take advice and inspiration from other people’s journeys, but at the end of the day, your trek is your own and what works for someone else may not work for you in the same way.

Fun Fact

Ellen was so strapped for cash when leasing her first 400 square-foot office space that she had to have her aunt co-sign the lease. The cost was only $400/month and she could barely afford it. Today, Hedley & Bennett operates out of a 17,000 square-foot warehouse complete with a full-size tree house, zip line, slide and swing set.

Notes from Chris

Episode 583
People in the cooking industry work incredibly hard for their money. They put in back-breaking hours, missing out on holidays and time spent with family—all for the love of food. The last thing they want to worry about while slaving over a stove is replacing their clothing. They need gear that works as hard as they do. That brings us to Ellen Bennett. Her story is one of passion, resilience, and reimagined chefs aprons!

Ellen is hustling personified. At just 18 years old, she moved from LA to Mexico City. What started out as a two-month trip ended up being a four-year adventure. She attended culinary there and turned to side hustling to make ends meet. That included renting out every spare foot (or meter) of her home to visiting tourists, working as an English teacher, translator, and even a lottery number announcer! It was a life education that taught her how to be resourceful.

But her heart was in food, so she eventually moved back to Los Angeles in 2012 and began a stint as a line chef at Bäco Mercat, a much loved Spanish-fusion restaurant in the middle of downtown LA. After two and a half years working there, a sizzling opportunity arose, one that Ellen was keen to take advantage of.

Fed up with the sub-par aprons available on the market, the owner, Josef Centeno, was looking to commission a company to make a more functional and durable apron for his staff.

This was a pain point for Ellen too who was tired of constantly having to adjust her straps or find some way to keep her pockets from falling apart all the while working a busy line. She knew that she could use her experience to improve on your run of the mill apron, so Ellen asked him to give her a chance to create them herself. She could make some money and was also the perfect test subject as she’d be using the apron herself.

He believed in her, so gave her a shot with an order of 40 aprons. The problem was, at this point, Ellen had zero experience with sewing—it was a completely half-baked idea! What she did have though was determination and a passion to succeed.

Soon she had the first batch of aprons made and was ready to deliver them to her boss. He took them with minimal fanfare and provided feedback after the first shift... She got grilled!

As Ellen says, you learn the most from failure. Although the feedback left her ego feeling a little worse for wear, she was far from defeated and made a promise to remake 20 of the aprons with the assurance that they’d be perfect this time.

His criticisms helped her refine the product. The second batch of aprons was of an even better quality and featured a unique strap system that’s still used today.

What started as a small batch operation pumping out hundreds of aprons out of a 400 sq. ft. apartment is now a full-fledged operation located in a 17,000 square-foot warehouse in LA that sells millions of dollars in aprons every year!

Hedley & Bennett is still a company in its infancy, but, like Ellen herself, it is moving fast. Although they started with aprons, they’re transitioning to more of a lifestyle brand, one that aims to bring simplicity and functionality to all areas of the kitchen.

Ellen told us an apron is to a chef what a cape is to a superhero. For both, they are capable of great things as long as they are wearing the right equipment.


MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • Hedley & Bennett: Get rid of that old apron and bring some dignity and respect back into the kitchen—snag yourself an apron over on Ellen's website!
  • Shopify: Ellen used Shopify to set up her site for Hedley & Bennett, and they're offering a 21-day trial and exclusive discount for all Side Hustle School listeners!
SEE ALSO:

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Quote of the Day
"Dreams are not cookie cutter or 'one size fits all.' If you’re chasing someone else’s dreams, you’re going to get burned out because you will not have the passion to succeed and see it through. Don’t follow the dreams of others—create your own!"
—Ellen Bennett #SideHustleSchool

Sponsors & Gratitude

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau