Philly’s “French Toast Lady” has been serving up cinnamon-sugar sweetness with a smile to hungry customers since 2018.
Charisse McGill, chef and owner of Lokal Artisan Foods, has gained the nickname, “Philly’s French Toast Lady” for her famous french toast bites.
McGill was the first African-American female chef at Spruce Harbor Street Park located on the Delaware Riverfront, the first Black woman in Pennsylvania to create her own signature beer and was recently named one of Philadelphia’s Most Influential African Americans for 2021 by The Philadelphia Tribune.
“I’m definitely quite humbled because there’s a lot of folks that have done a lot of great things in Philly, and really just to be identified as one of them on a very public stage is huge,” McGill said.
In 2018, McGill opened Lokal Artisan Foods, and began selling her famous french toast flavored treats at local markets, concerts, and festivals. In 2021, she was able to become a park vendor at Spruce Harbor Street Park and open her own french toast stand.
McGill graduated from Temple University in 2003 with a degree in sports and recreation management. After graduation, she worked as the Director of Special Events at Valley Forge Military Academy managing a suburban farmer’s market.
Seeing all of the independent food and beverage business owners at the farmers market every day for seven years inspired McGill to quit her job and pursue a small business of her own, she said.
In 2018, McGill opened Lokal Artisan Foods after collecting, testing and ultimately perfecting recipes with two friends in less than six months.
McGill drew inspiration from her love for Auntie Anne’s cinnamon flavored pretzels to create her own bite-sized versions of traditional french toast, she said.
“I’ve always wanted to be the Auntie Anne’s of french toast,” McGill said.
McGill has expanded her menu and recently incorporated Yards Brewing Company’s French Toast Bites Ale, a vanilla and brown sugar beer inspired by McGill’s famous french toast bites, into her menu selection. These new products attracted more customers and allowed her business to remain open and thrive during the pandemic, McGill said.
To increase business and attract customers, Lokal Artisan Foods has hosted stands at the German Christmas Village at City Hall, Penn’s Landing, Cherry Street Pier, Eastern State Penitentiary and at the University of Delaware, and often travels to events like Made in America Festival, said Kenisha McGirt, a 2004 Temple public relations alumna and current managing partner for Lokal Artisan Foods.
Koy Zdimal, tried McGill’s french toast bites for the first time at Made in America in September.
“It was a unique and creative food idea,” said Zdimal, a freshman journalism major. “It was very good and had a plethora of toppings.”
Lokal Artisan Foods also plans to establish a mentorship program that will teach marginalized business owners or individuals how to pursue business ventures of their own, McGirt said.
McGirt believes representation is important and wants to give back to the community as much as she can, she said.
“Giving back and making sure that that opportunity exists for just individuals who are looking to start out within a small business,” McGirt said. “Sometimes we don’t see ourselves represented a lot in certain spaces and, you know, want to be able to say, ‘hey, we’re here and you can be here too.’”
While serving individuals across Pennsylvania, McGill hopes to increase popularity and expand their menu and incorporate a brick and mortar cafe in the future, she said.
“I’m just gonna continue to do good work with integrity, build relationships and make a difference through french toast,” McGill said.