My sister-in-law met Ellen at a Ted event. She said that I had to talk to her. Then Jen Bekman sent me an email the day I was going to talk to Ellen saying that I should really talk to her. It took me about 10 seconds on the phone to know why my sister-in-law was taken in with Ellen. She has had a carrot dangling in front of her nose from the second she shot out of the womb. Not sure she knew why she had to follow that carrot but Hedley & Bennett is now a company of over 40 people in 14,000 square feet she might have figured it out.
Ellen grew up in Glendale, Los Angeles. She’d spend a few months a year in Mexico with her Grandma who she is very close to. Her mother is from Mexico and her father is from England. Two totally different worlds. Her Mom is a registered nurse. Her father is a pilot for American Airlines. Ellen grew up in a Mexican oriented hard working family that would eat also Walkers shortbread and sip tea.
Ellen just loved Mexico. After graduating high school she decided she wanted to move to Mexico City. Her parents were not thrilled with the move to Mexico City. They wanted Ellen to go to college and so she did. She applied for a Mexican citizenship at 19 so she could to go college there. Her parents were not interested in supporting her school there so Ellen figured out how to do it herself. She became the announcer for the daily Mexican lottery winners, she became a talk show host on TV for an America football show, she was a translator for for the Mexican train unions, she taught English to kids…and in between did commercials and a bit of modeling. This is while going to school. Just like everything else she did, she hustled to make it work.
She went to Cessa University‘s culinary school and studied restaurant administration. She made a deal with her Dad that she would learn how to cook in an actual kitchen. He liked that idea and was willing to support it. So Ellen began to get cooking apprentices outside of school. This all took place between 2007-2010. During this time and all the many jobs she had she learned how insanely bureaucratic Mexico is and figuring it out ended up being a great asset for building her business.
Once Ellen graduated she began taking finance courses along side her culinary work. She started a rental business. She would sublet rooms to students from America. The woman is super entrepreneurial. All of this took place before she was 23. Two years more and it was time to go home.
At 23 she decided that before she lost her flight privileges through her father she would take a solo trip around the world. She has zero itinerary, she just got on a plane and began. Ellen started in NYC, then to Europe, Canada, Asia and South America…and in that order. She would just keep moving. She’d get to Rome and decide I’ve done it, go to the airport and just get on the plane that was available for the next stop. Zero rhyme or reason.
When she had enough she returned to LA. What came out of the trip was the realization of how accessible the world was. It opened her eyes to what she could do on a small budget. It honed her scrappy skills that included being able to figure it out and make it happen.
Ellen decided that she had this education and interest in the culinary world so she should get a job in a restaurant. She got a list of the top 10 restaurant in LA and cold called them all by stopping by. Two of them said they’d give her a shot. One of them was Baco Mercat He put her on the Friday night line. The other restaurant that said they’d give her a try was Providence. This was a Michelin rated restaurant. Totally different experience. They didn’t really have a job per se but let her come around and learn while they got to know her. She got a job a week and a half after doing that. She kept both jobs for two years. One in fast casual and the other in fine dining.
After two years things started to shift. The owner of Baco Mercat mentions that he is going to have this girl make aprons for the restaurant. Ellen tells him let me make them. He said yes and gave her a 40 unit order. Ellen did not have a plan, a pattern or any idea what she was about to do but as always figured it out.
Ellen grew up loving design. As a kid she they would drive by a house and she’d comment how she would paint the house a different color or how to improve a design. She decided to call her company Hedley after her English Grandpa who she would drink tea with, the dignified classy side of the family and then Bennett was her crazy Mexican side. The brand is dignified yet crazy.
Her aprons took off. She began to pound the pavement and get order after order. She’d go to green markets and talk to the purveyors, she’d work for free for a chef…it was pure gorilla marketing. She learned from all those conversations what people wanted in their apron. She would make them what they wanted and then go the extra mile by hand delivering the order wrapped in paper with a bow on top.
In six months Ellen went from making the original 40 aprons to 100 a week. They started in July 2012 and by December Cool Hunting wrote about her and it was crazy. I remember reading about Ellen the first time in that post. She stayed up all night before that post and built her own website.
Three years later Ellen continues to grow the business to business end, they also have a wholesale and retail business. There are 40 people in-house who just make the aprons. There is also a team of PR, finances, sales, marketing, operations, customer service and shipping people. The best thing is she owns this business 100%. Totally bootstrapped it on her own.
They recently moved into a 14,000 square foot facility in Vernon where everything is under one roof. She wants to have tours for schools too so she can talk about how you build something from the ground up. They are expanding into napkins, chef and kids coats. They just recently made a 4XL coat for a 500 lb chef. She wants everyone to wear her products.
Ellen is a rocket. Even keeping up with her story through conversation was riveting. I give her such a nod for doing it all herself. She took chances and faked it until she made it at every turn. That is what I call an entrepreneur.