A year ago, Charisse McGill took the leap from working in the food industry to starting her own business — selling French toast with her daughter.
She’s spent the summer selling her breakfast snacks at Piazza Pod Park on Germantown Avenue in Northern Liberties.
This weekend, she’s setting up shop at Made In America, a two-day music festival curated by hip hop artist Jay-Z that draws thousands to the Parkway.
McGill, a 2003 sports, tourism and hospitality management alumna, started Lokal Artisan Foods in Nov. 2018. Being a vendor at the Labor Day weekend-festival is a major accomplishment for her, McGill said.
“I know people who tried to get in for years and haven’t gotten accepted,” McGill added. “I just have the pressure of overdelivering and really making…French toast bites the new street food.”
The idea of Lokal Artisan Foods started after becoming the manager of the Lansdale Farmers’ Market in 2012 and McGill saw vendors “living their dream under a white tent.”
She helped her daughter, Madison McGill, start her own lemonade business at the farmers’ market and then decided to translate their love of French toast into her own business.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I see all these vendors making a lot of money and doing what they love, I see my daughter making this money doing what she loves, I gotta figure out something to do,’” she said.
The two moved the business to Piazza Pod Park and signed a license agreement with Shoprite in July for its Cheltenham location to sell made-to-order french toast bites, lemonade and spices.
McGill was able to use her daughter’s profit from selling lemonade to launch her business and quit her day job as the Director of Special Events at the Valley Forge Military Academy.
As the only Black female owner of a stand in Piazza Pod Park, McGill said she feels like she has a lot to prove. She wants to set a path for more Black female entrepreneurs to run a business in the park.
“I definitely want to … make sure that we nail it and knock it home and be one of the most popular booths here,” she said. “So far so good.”
McGill said that wherever her French toast goes, her 13-year-old daughter’s lemonade goes as well.
Madison said that she has appreciated working with her mom, despite it being stressful sometimes.
“We do argue about some things and we do agree on some things,” Madison said. “But it’s been helpful for me to make business decisions and how to spend my money for the business on things that I actually need.”
McGill makes sure that the two have time together to bond outside of french toast and lemonade, as it’s more important for her to be mom than a business partner, she said.
“I’m just appreciative of being in a position to present her with the opportunity of leadership and ownership at a young age,” McGill added. “Even if she doesn’t become an entrepreneur ultimately, the lessons that she learned in the past two years, she’s going to be a great employee for someone.”
Jeffery Montague, the part-time director of Alumni Engagement at Temple University’s School of Sports, Tourism, and Hospitality Management, has mentored McGill since he taught her in her senior capstone course.
Montague said he’s seen McGill’s success every step of the way, and he knew she would be successful with Lokal Artisan Foods. He added that McGill is teaching her daughter entrepreneurship, which is innovative and creative.
“Back then when I started talking about innovation to 21-year-old students, she was the one that would sit in the front of the classroom with wide eyes, soaking it all in,” he said. “She has the tenacity, she has the independence, she has the business attitude, and I really believe she understands the [global] marketplace.”
In preparation for Made In America, McGill has been cutting loaves of bread, ten quarts of strawberries and stamping 2,000 cups for the French toast bites because everything is made on the spot.
“It’s our biggest festival on record to date,” McGill said. “There’s no turning back, once you’re there, you’re there and…you can’t run out of any of these things.”
McGill said she jokes that she wants to be the “Auntie Anne’s” of French toast because she strives to be in high-traffic areas. In the future, McGill said she wants to “be where the people are,” like Auntie Anne’s or Cinnabon.
“You see them [and] you know exactly what you’re gonna get, and they’re only in places where there’s already a lot of people and that’s the direction I see the business going into,” McGill said.