Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Written by Lauren Burke Photographed by Shaakira DeLoatch
For Myles Powell of 8 Myles Gourmet Mac N’ Cheese, the grind never stops. Nor does the mac. “I always have my mac phone on me,” says the up-tempo Myles. “I always have to be doing something.” It’s this energy that has allowed the young entrepreneur to grow the business from a home kitchen hobby into an emerging brand over the course of only a few years, stocking a variety of sauces and frozen mac n’ cheeses on grocery shelves across DC. A self-described soul food junkie and the child of a Philly-based foodie family, Powell’s world has long been food-centric. It wasn’t until 2014, following the encouragement of friends and family, that he decided to venture into the food business. While he was developing what would become his first product—a raspberry barbeque sauce still on shelves today—he found himself cast in the Food Network’s “America’s Best Cook,” a television competition series.
“Even though I was nervous…It still felt like, alright, this is my space.”
It was there under the lights and cameras that Powell knew he was headed down the right path. “Even though I was nervous … It still felt like, alright, this is my space.” The pressure came with added benefits, too: nerves of steel.
“It broke me,” he says, “I was so nervous for so long that anything I do [now] like public speaking or an interview, I’m just like, ‘eh.’” A few months later, 8 Myles was officially born. The name is a reflection of Powell’s initial vision to create eight different sauces. Though the brand’s offerings have evolved to include mac n’ cheese (we aren’t mad), the name has stuck. And, no, it’s not an Eminem pun. “I get a lot of, ‘You from Detroit, right?’ and I’m like, ‘Nah,’” says Powell. However, collaborating with the artist remains a playful possibility. When he was applying for the 8 Myles trademark and learned that Shady Records might consider it to be too close to their own, Powell was ready with a counteroffer if Shady’s lawyers ever called. “I was like, ay, I’ll give Eminem mac n’ cheese if he lets it go through … I never got that phone call though.”
In 2016, Powell made a move to DC so that he could feed off of the city’s vibrant food scene. He enrolled in Union Kitchen’s food accelerator program out of their northeast warehouse soon After, which gave him a crash course in food business 101 (branding, bookkeeping, label making, marketing, etc.). The program also provided him with a community of mentors to learn from and grow with and a coworking kitchen space that still supports his small, one- to four-man team today. As the brand has evolved, so too have Powell’s experiments in the kitchen. Some are great (read: fried mac n’ cheese balls currently being tested), some will just never happen (Powell is proudly anti-boxed mac and proudly loyal to “real deal mac”), and some are just plain bad. One of his worsts, he says, was an attempt at pomegranate hot sauce. “It was by god awful. It [tasted] like spicy pomegranate juice. I just dumped it.” Whether it’s pushing past a recipe flop or continuing to reach out to new buyers after not hearing back from others, Powell emphasizes the importance of not being easily discouraged. “I get more no’s than yes’s. But that one yes makes up for it.” For those who are just getting into the business, he offers the following advice: “You just have to be really dedicated and have a goal in mind…having confidence in your product is number one.”
Celebrate the small successes, he says, like your first sale. Powell still has his first dollar, which came from a fellow student in graduate school years ago. Equally important is follow through. “A lot of people have this grand idea and they just don’t follow through,” he says. “It’s really about persistence and having confidence and faith that it’s going to work out, because not everyone’s going to think it’s a great idea.”
And there’s no shortage of confidence with Powell. When asked where he wants the brand to go in the future, he says, “Everywhere.” Readers who’d like to follow 8 Myles on its journey to deliver “the best damn mac n’ cheese you’ve ever had” can keep up at 8myles.com or on Instagram and Twitter, @8MylesLLC.