MilliOnAir interactive Magazine April 2017 - Page 117

by Denise Restauri

So in 2006, when I was 18, I moved to Mexico City. I didn’t know anyone there, but I was ready for a challenge and I had always wanted to live in Mexico. I rented what can only be described as a large closet and enrolled in culinary school. I distinctly remember the day I graduated — a few friends came to cheer me on, but my parents weren’t able to be there and it wasn’t what I had imagined graduating from college would be. Still, I was grateful for every moment and for having accomplished a college diploma, if not a degree. My dream of going to those other schools had ended and I was OK with that.

After almost four years in Mexico City I felt like I had earned some life experience, survived living in a foreign country and was ready to come home. Back in Los Angeles, I worked as a line cook in a few restaurants including the Michelin-starred restaurant Providence, and it was on that line that Hedley & Bennett was born. I really disliked our uniforms and couldn't understand how we were making some of the most beautiful food in Los Angeles yet we all looked and felt terrible. I wanted to create uniforms that were well designed, functional and beautiful for myself and our crew in the kitchen.

With zero design or manufacturing experience, I launched Hedley & Bennett. I had no money to start a company so I traded my skills for the ones I was lacking: I cooked breakfast and dinner for people so they would teach me how to make patterns and sew for me. My first apron order was from one of the restaurants I worked in. I took all the money I made from that order and put it right back into making more aprons. I sold at the Hollywood Farmers Market and told people about them everywhere I went. Since 2012, we’ve grown from a tiny office to a 14,000 sq. ft. apron factory. We outfit 4,000+ restaurants around the world, including some of my favorite chefs and heroes like Martha Stewart, Nancy Silverton, April Bloomfield, Mario Batali and Alton Brown, to name a few.

Now this is where the road comes full circle. I was doing my Apron Lady thing one Tuesday afternoon this past fall when an email popped up in my inbox. It was from the Dean of Le Cordon Bleu. He asked me if I would give the commencement speech for their 2016 graduation! The school I hadn't been able to attend 11 years ago was asking me to do the commencement speech! I couldn't believe it!

When the big day finally arrived, I put on my Sunday finest, walked in so excited and shared my story and my encouragements with hundreds of students and their families. Then the faculty presented me with an honorary diploma and I swear, it was like the last 11 years of hustle flashed before my eyes — after all the hurdles, twists and turns, in the end I got the diploma from Le Cordon Bleu, the school I had to walk away from when I was younger.

So I can confidently say this: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It doesn’t matter if you’re born with means or not. Anyone can pursue their dream, you’ve just gotta get going on it, stop worrying about why it may or may not happen and just start doing! If you take some unexpected turns along the way, don't worry about it, that's just part of this giant life adventure.

To hear the stories behind these notable quotes from Bennett and to find out about Oliver, her pet pig, tune in to our podcast:


"The only way to shut up naysayers is to succeed."

"If you don’t see the walls, you go right through them."

"I’m done with making less of myself.  Own who you are and what you accomplish."

"The sky’s not the limit, you are. You set the bar."

"You don’t need to hero it out and do everything yourself."

Check out my Forbes  podcast, Mentoring Moments,  and follow me on Twitter  and  Facebook.

My book, Their Roaring Thirties is here.