Charisse McGill is finding her sweet spot in the midst of a pandemic

Charisse McGill launched French Toast Bites just a few short years ago.
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Down by the Delaware River Waterfront, Philadelphians are in for a real sweet surprise.

French Toast bites by Lokal Artisan Foods is setting up shop for the 2020 summer season down at Spruce Street Harbor Park, and although the stand’s offerings are focused on a classic dish, the menu items are truly unique. But what really brings this stand flavor is not just what’s being cooked up, it’s how all of this came to be.

According to a release, starting this Friday, French Toast Bites, French Toast Milkshakes, Bacon on a Stick and other summertime eats will join the existing line-up for Spruce Street Harbor Park by Univest. Chef, entrepreneur, owner and open-air economics expert Charisse McGill will become the first-ever Black female operator for Spruce Street Harbor Park, and for McGill, the road to Spruce Street has been a long and exciting one — with plenty of ups and downs, especially during the global crisis.

McGill, 38, attended Temple University in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management and is also just one class away from graduating from St. Joseph’s Haub School of Business, with an MBA in Food Marketing. Most recently, McGill launched her business after her daughter Madison who had her own lemonade stand venture, helped ignite the sweet spark that later became French Toast Bites. McGill’s maiden voyage was at the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market at Dilworth Park, and after just a short time there, the french toast maven became one of the most sought after booths in the venue. With those profits, McGill was able to expand and even craft her own French Toast spice blend, with the tagline, “The Only French Toast Seasoning You Will Need.”

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And the ball did not stop rolling there.

The release states, while she was securing shelf placement for the spice, McGill continued to expand throughout 2019 with more events and festivals, her debut at the Bronx Night Market, the launch of a summer-long pop-up at Piazza Pod Park, the launch of a pilot program with Shop Rite, her debut at Made in America, and a record-breaking return to the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market. For 2020, McGill had big plans that included more and larger festivals and events, more short-and long term pop-ups, and exploration of a brick and mortar space. Then, COVID-19 hit and those plans fell apart like they did for so many in the hospitality business.

After Mayor Jim Kenney’s recent announcement of the cancellation of events until early 2021, McGill—along with many other Philadelphians in the food, beverage and event industry—had to re-evaluate what extra steps have to be taken to ensure their livelihood and passions can remain intact. However, in times of adversity, it’s been uplifting to see just how creative business owners can get and what they can do to help those around them during unprecedented circumstances.

McGill herself went to work when COVID-19 hit becoming the first paid vendor on the Black-owned and operated Black and Mobile delivery service and by partnering with Better Box to share kitchen and cooking facilities to host pop-up sales via delivery and pick-up. The entrepreneur also became one of 60 people to win a grant from Black People Eats, which helped her then raise 100% of her goal through a community Kiva loan, and was awarded a Magic Johnson forgivable loan to minority-owned businesses through Johnson’s EquiTrust Life Insurance Company. McGill also received a grant from the PA 30 Day Fund, all of which helped her sustain her passion project during the pandemic.

However, it seems that the worst is not behind us, or at least, all the troubles from COVID-19 have not yet left. For now, McGill’s saving grace will be at the newly opened Spruce Street Harbor Park. Despite the beautiful setting, it is truly a tricky time as a small business owner, yet, the sweetly poised entrepreneur has big plans for the beloved Philly summertime staple.

Philadelphians can follow the wafting smell of cinnamon and sugar and enjoy a few staple items such as French Toast Bites with fresh seasonal berries, whipped cream and caramel drizzle ($8), French Toast Milkshakes ($7), Bacon on a Stick ($5), Vegan French Toast Bites ($8) and other beverages and treats as well that are going to be announced.

French Toast Bites will be open at Spruce Street Harbor Park Monday to Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. For the menu and more information, visit lokalartisanfoods.com. Philadelphians can also connect on social media at @lokalartisanfoods on Facebook and Instagram.

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