Remembering Charisse McGill, a culinary and entrepreneurial trailblazer

The founder of Lokal Artisan Foods, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition and Temple alumna made a lasting impact in various roles throughout her career.

Charisse McGill, the trailblazing founder of Lokal Artisan Foods, the first Black female chef at Spruce Harbor Street Park and a Temple alumna passed away at 42. | EMMA PADNER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Madison McGill was around 12 years old, she started working alongside her mother, Charisse McGill. 

“I know a lot of kids who never really worked with a parent before, so I thought it was kind of fun to boss my mom around sometimes,” said Madison, now 17. “I really just like hanging out with my mom in general. She was a really funny person and always knew how to make me laugh, no matter what the occasion was.”

Charisse, 42, founder of Lokal Artisan Foods, executive director of the nonprofit Farmers Market Coalition and a 2003 sports, tourism and hospitality management alumna, unexpectedly passed away on Jan. 15. 

After helping Madison with her lemonade stand at the Landsdale Farmers’ Market and becoming manager of the same market in 2012, Charisse was struck with inspiration to create her own culinary creation: cinnamon-sugar-infused French Toast Bites. 

She founded the street food company Lokal Artisan Foods in 2018 and sold her French Toast Bites at more than five different permanent and semi-permanent locations and other special events. 

In the summer of 2019, Charisse sold her breakfast snacks at Piazza Pod Park on Germantown Avenue in Northern Liberties and achieved a significant milestone when she set up a booth at that year’s Made In America music festival alongside her daughter. 

The only Black female owner in Piazza Pod Park, Charisse aimed to become the “Auntie Anne’s of French toast” and make French Toast Bites the newest street food. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, her business thrived, and she participated in various events to establish a mentorship program for marginalized business owners. 

“Just from the outpouring of attention, her impact is incredible and attests to Charisse,” said Daniel Funk, the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management associate dean. “I think what she’s accomplished with her entrepreneurial spirit and determination is a real inspiration to our students, to our alumni and to our faculty.”

Charisse’s business expanded to a license agreement with Shoprite around 2018. She emphasized the importance of setting a path for more Black female entrepreneurs.

Charisse made history as the first African-American female chef at Spruce Harbor Street Park located on the Delaware Riverfront and the first Black woman in Pennsylvania to create her own signature beer. In 2021, she was recognized as one of Philadelphia’s Most Influential African Americans by The Philadelphia Tribune.  

She gained prominence in the food-business circuit, receiving recognition from various organizations in the wider Philadelphia community in the form of awards from the 76ers Buy Black program, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. 

This past summer, Charisse assumed the role of executive director for the FMC. 

Her dedication to the farmers’ market community was unmatched in terms of her experience as both a market vendor and manager, wrote Willa Sheikh, FMC interim executive director, in an email to The Temple News. 

“Charisse was a devoted mother, daughter, community leader, entrepreneur, and advocate,” Sheikh wrote. “As friends and colleagues, we will miss her terribly, as a community, we know the loss of her passion, leadership, and innovative spirit will be felt by all. Together, we will honor her legacy with renewed dedication to our shared vision for a better food system for all.”

Despite the challenges, working with her daughter allowed the pair to make business decisions and bond.

“She taught me a lot business-wise that I probably would not know if I never worked with my mom,” Madison said. “I know I want to be an entrepreneur myself in the future, not necessarily within the food industry, but I could still use the tips that she taught me over the years and put that towards my own business ventures in the future.”

Before founding Lokal Artisan Foods, Charisse had a diverse career, working with organizations like the 76ers and Special Olympics Pennsylvania and establishing an event management company. She also earned an MBA in food marketing from St. Joseph’s University in 2021.

Survived by her parents Tina Jackson and Maurice Davidson, her daughter Madison and other relatives and friends, Charisse made a lasting impact in various roles throughout her career. 

“Our STHM and Fox family is deeply saddened by the passing of Charisse, our hearts are with her daughter, family, friends and everyone who knew her,” wrote Chip Hunter, Fox School of Business dean, in an email to The Temple News. “Charisse’s passion as an entrepreneur and dedication not only to STHM but to our entire Philadelphia community, is an inspiration for us all, she is an amazing example of what it means to be Temple Made and she will be greatly missed.” 

Charisse’s memorial service was held on Friday, Jan. 26, at The Chapel at St. Joseph’s University and streamed on the St. Joseph’s Campus Ministry YouTube page.

The family has asked donations be made in Charisse’s name to FMC and Madison’s College Fund.

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