Macaroni and cheese has been around a long time, but its history in the United States can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson. In 1784 Jefferson made the long voyage to Paris, France and brought with him an African-American slave named James Hemings. Hemings, the half-brother of Jefferson’s wife, Martha, became an avid chef after spending his five years in Paris training in culinary school. Despite being legally free in France where slavery was prohibited, Hemings agreed to re-enter into slavery as Jefferson’s cook in America in exchange for certain provisions. Upon his return, Hemings introduced Virginia to some of the finer points of French Cuisine including an exotic delight called macaroni and cheese. At the time, this sophisticated dish was enjoyed by the wealthy and elite guests of Jefferson’s home in Monticello.

James Hemings Circa 1787

If you fast forwarded a couple hundred years from there and made a two hour drive south from Monticello, there’s a chance you could have run into Anna Bell Glenn Breedlove. It was a common occurrence for a young Kevin Mobley to find his great-grandmother in the kitchen of her South Boston, Virginia home cooking up a storm of cheesy pasta. Kevin, now an Atlanta-based engineer and entrepreneur, regularly cooked alongside her and his great-grandfather, mom, aunts, and uncles. Cooking macaroni & cheese was a family affair and a cultural tradition for the Mobleys that they acknowledge originated just up the road with James Hemings himself, two centuries before.

Anna Bell Glenn Breedlove

But it wasn’t just Great-Grandma Anna Bell who inherited this Southern culinary pastime. As an adult, Kevin got the opportunity to spend time with Edna Lewis, the Grand Dame of Southern cooking and another Virginia Native. Through their conversations, Kevin was inspired to re-explore his culinary roots. Anna Bell’s mac & cheese came back into focus and Kevin went to work recreating his great-grandmother’s staple meal. According to Kevin, “It took years and an old battered recipe to emulate the flavors in her dish. I spent 15 years finding the right ingredients, including an English cheddar, that captures the woodsy, smokiness of Anna Bell’s wood-oven baked mac & cheese. I married this with the best cream and milk from a local dairy to recreate the velvety, richness that her dish possessed.”

Kevin Mobley, Founder of Anna Bell’s Mac

After Kevin breathed new life into the old family recipe he connected with the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta, which offered his new business, Anna Bell’s Mac, the free use of their expansive kitchen. Ironically, this very hotel was the first in the South to welcome African Americans as guests and was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s. Visitors can still find the hotel’s Coretta Scott-King suite filled with their wedding memorabilia. Today if you venture down to the basement of the Hyatt, you might run into Anna Bell’s great-grandson, back in the kitchen manifesting his company’s namesake through his cooking.


While we devour this delicious food we get the double benefit of knowing that it comes with a story. Appreciating Anna Bell’s mac & cheese as one of many contributions African Americans have made to this country’s culinary culture only adds to the rich goodness of flavors. Thank you, Kevin. Anna Bell and Mr. Hemings would be proud of the legacy you’ve helped spread to current and future generations.