Community Feature: Kelly Bennett

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Kelly Bennett is the Creative Director and co-owner of VegeNation, an award winning, community-based vegan restaurant that began in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas. She is a passionate, social-cause-focused entrepreneur who shares creative, positive insight through her media channel @withkellybennett (on Facebook and Instagram) and her co-created business workshop series, @theworkshopdowntown (Facebook, Instagram). Although she’s originally from Long Island, Kelly is a true Las Vegas local and pioneer in the conscious consumer movement, wholeheartedly invested in “change for good” in our city.

Photo by Brittany Lo Photography

Tell us about your life as a Creative Director! What does your day to day look like?

My day to day life as a Creative Director can be sometimes insane, not going to lie. But it’s always really fun. I have to say at the end of the day, with the ups and downs of just being a co-owner of a restaurant that’s growing — woah, two restaurants now —  it can really be exhausting. I have to say this is, like, a dream come true. I’m just so grateful. That’s more of the feeling side of it, and the practical side of it is a lot of project management. I never realized how much creative directors have to just literally project manage. You’re really taking people’s ideas that are in their brain, and then you’re responsible for bringing them to life.

So for myself, it’s the concepts of creating a brand, creating a brand experience, how to curate it, how to document it, how to tell those stories and then not just to consumers, but to a team. So … how to put that all together. It’s a lot of sitting in front of the computer. I just redid my spreadsheet (which I’m very excited about) and I realized that I’ve officially become a nerd because I am so excited for my new spreadsheet!

And yeah, it’s also about really documenting and keeping things organized. The Creative Director is that person between artists and makers who helps concepts come to life. Then, they’re the person who is coming up with ideas as well and really managing all the different sides. Being able to explain why you’re doing certain creative things to say, a COO, and like, understand it financially, but also then creatively. So it’s a lot of living in the gray and using both sides of your brain, which can be exhausting, but I have to say – it’s what I love to do.

How did you get started?

I never knew what a creative director was until I Googled it about three-and-a-half years ago. For myself, I always knew I wanted to be a business person. I always wanted to own businesses. I always wanted to be creative. My dad used to own a manufacturing company in New York and he did all the packaging for perfume companies there. So, I grew up checking big print sheets for perfume boxes and my job was to go around and check for imperfections and circle it and give it to my dad to then have the print redone. What kid does that for fun!? But I loved it. And my mom was very entrepreneurial, too. She always had different companies. She had a preschool and she had a catering company, so I grew up in a very entrepreneurial hustle, but also a very creative family and so I always wanted to be creative.

I went to school for business, then I also studied fashion merchandising and interned in London at a really huge European retailer. Then I studied marketing, advertising, social psychology, randomly lived in China and I was just putting all the pieces together of the impact that marketing has on society and how advertisements have an impact on how people perceive things and influence their behaviors. And I was like, “wow, if I figure out how to positively impact people to make better choices we could use our consumerism for good.”

I didn’t have those words at the time, but that was basically the journey I set out on when I was 18. To figure that out. I don’t even know how I had that idea. I never even had anyone talk to me about that, I just had this concept – this thesis – and then I spent over 10 years trying to put different pieces of the puzzle together. And three-and-a-half-years ago when I met Chef Donald, he told me the concept for VegeNation and I was like, “yes”! This is something I could really sink my teeth into and put all the pieces that I’ve been collecting over the years into one project. And I Googled “what do you call someone who does a lot of creative things and they’re part of the business, but they’re also a creative?” And then Creative Director came up and I read the bio and I was like, “yep. That’s what I am. I’ll be the Creative Director.” And he’s like, “okay, cool.” I just made it up and I put it in the context of doing it for socially conscious brands.

And you also live at Fergusons now?

I do. I live at Fergusons. I live in an airstream and I love it. It is all my minimalist living goals and I love it. I love how it’s all green and efficient and I feel like I’m camping, but I don’t have to be in the woods. And I love that I love it. It’s just very unique and I feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Like, nowhere else in the world, something like this is happening and I truly am inspired every day by people who live around me and like living on a construction site as well. It’s really cool. I love seeing stuff come to life and it just keeps me very grounded.

And the original VegeNation is downtown, just up the road?

Yes. Now we also have Henderson and we’re working on another location in the Southwest, as well as some spinoff concepts – a burger place and a pizza parlor.

So it went from one little idea that we were crossing our fingers, crossing our toes that it would work, and now it’s really becoming a whole bigger thing. We’re working on actually a vegan restaurant group that all of our restaurants could be housed under which is really cool. And for myself as a vegan, I started out more as an activist blogging, telling people why they should go vegan and now I use business as my activism to make cool products, to make a cool space, to make it fun and social, so much that people don’t even realize they’re eating vegan food, but they just feel really good. That’s how I came up with the tagline: “Eat here and feel damn good.” So that people would be more open minded to just trying it. I mean, we serve hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of meals every year and it’s just an incredible thing to see people come up to us, tears in their eyes, like, “I changed my life and VegeNation helped me make it happen!” One lady came up to me the other day and she had had stage four breast cancer; she put her cancer into remission by going vegan! Just incredible stuff. To have a small hand in making a big impact, that feels really good.

What are you most excited about seeing when the front of Ferguson’s opens later this year?

I’m excited to see the underground bar. Hopefully something that we (VegeNation) are working on will go in there. I’m really hoping that will happen! But yeah, the underground bar sounds very cool. And the maker spaces. I want to have a studio in there, hopefully an office. That would be goals!

Okay now, I know these answers because we’re friends, but do you utilize the co-working space in the residential area?

I do. I co-work in there A LOT. We have a really good time. Sometimes we’re like, “okay, we’re not going to talk for an hour” and we’ll set a timer because we just all want to talk to each other. It’s fun because a lot of ideas and projects that we’ve just talked about, just casually, have happened or are starting to happen.

And I like community living as introverted as I am. I like how my airstream is in the corner in the quiet area, but I truly love living around other people. I don’t have to go out anywhere! There are jam sessions, there are different events. It’s so cool. I truly LOVE living here.

And what keeps you inspired?

I would say the growing community of people who truly want to buy things that make a positive impact. And the journey of creating those products and services for that community and then also helping bring up the community of these small business owners and creatives who want to fill that void as well. Seeing both sides of it, working on the consumer demand and supply. I really love economics and just as simple as that may sound, working on both sides. Like today, going to Market in the Alley and seeing one of the members of the Workshop Downtown starting her small business serving tea; Market in the Alley, being something you and I have co-curated before and then seeing people at that market who follow us or read the blogs we produce and now they want to shop more local and support small businesses. To me that’s literally what I’m about and it’s just so cool to live and breathe and sleep in a space that’s curating that.

Okay, so you mentioned the Workshop Downtown. How would you describe it to people who are reading and aren’t familiar?

Yes! I tell people that you and I co-created The Workshop Downtown as an educational hub for local creatives who seek to learn different tools and insights to start or grow their small business. And that we are doing it in a very community-based way where everyone’s welcome! All ideas are welcome, our only requirement is that you seek to make a social impact. It’s really cool, the people that we attract and people who are interested. Our community is growing and people want those types of resources and connections. I’m really excited to see it grow.

What is your favorite system or tool that’s helped take your business to the next level or a tool that makes your life easier?

I’m really about Google spreadsheets right now. Google Docs, making a spreadsheet and then sharing it with my team so that everyone can see what I’m working on. If they have questions, they can go to the spreadsheet first. Or if they have an idea, they could see what’s on the docket and submit it to me. That’s been really helpful … that’s been really good for my brain to get organized. All my spreadsheets are broken down into three simple components: Am I Building a Brand?; Brand Awareness/Curating Brand Experience; and How Do I Bring Someone Back to the Brand? and literally all my spreadsheets are organized like that.

What’s your favorite book, author or podcast?

I’m going to go with podcast because I’m dyslexic and I don’t read much, but I love Socialista Podcast. Also, Wild Mystic Woman Podcast. Her podcast is about ending white feminism and speaking up about white supremacy and hers is very heart opening, mind opening, holy-shit-I-didn’t-even-realize-this-was-even-happening. And I’ve been feeling a lot of intense feelings. Like, wow, I didn’t even know that this was even happening. Or that even some of my actions that were subconscious were contributing to this. So yeah, I signed up for her Patreon and just have been listening. I think that’s a big part of it, just listening. It’s big part of my RE-education of ending white supremacy. So I listen to her  in the evening when I want to educate myself and just kind of think about a topic that I don’t necessarily talk about in my day-to-day work, but that’s very important and that’s a responsibility for me – and to do the work. And if you know me, you kind of probably know that I am obsessed with Gary Vaynerchuk. I really, really do love him. And like that’s like a whole other interview, but I listen to the Gary Vaynerchuk Audio Experience when I need like, a kick in the pants because he’s really blunt New York, which I love. Sometimes I just put his podcast in my ears and I’m like, “YES. I AM GOING TO DO THIS. IT IS HAPPENING!”

Yesss! What are you rooted in?

Creativity. Because I really feel like creativity will heal the world. When you create the right things and you create things that nourish people, nourish the planet, nourish animals and nourish goodness, I feel like you can change the world.

Find Kelly Bennett on Instagram and Facebook @withkellybennett, @vegenation and @theworkshopdowntown, www.theworkshopdowntown.com, and soon at www.withkellybennett.com

Our Community Feature series is led by Ashley Ayala of Sister House Collective. We’re so excited to have her be a part of our Fergusons community and crafting stories about people who make Las Vegas so incredible! Our partnerships are so important to us and we take a lot of time to really dig into the amazing talent right here in our backyard to connect them to us … and you! A big part of our vision is supporting our community and sharing people’s passions and dreams, and doing what we can to help further them! We’re #rootedincommunity and it shines through every decision we make, every person we meet and every idea we work hard to highlight.

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