French Toast Bites creator and Philly food entrepreneur Charisse McGill dies at age 42

The celebrated founder of Lokal Artisan Foods also was the first Black woman to lead the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit

Charisse McGill, founder of Lokal Artisan Foods and creator of French Toast Bites, died this week at the age of 42. The Philly-based food entrepreneur also was the first Black female executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit.

Charisse McGill, the owner of Lokal Artisan Foods and creator of French Toast Bites, died Monday, Jan. 15. No cause of death was given.

McGill, 42, made a name for herself in the Philly food world in 2018 when she introduced French Toast Bites, a snack she sold at pop-up markets and events across the city, including the Christmas Village at Dilworth Park and the Roots Picnic. McGill’s creation became a regular culinary feature at places like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Cherry Street Pier, where she became the first Black woman to own and operate a permanent stand.

McGill also made history last year when she became the first Black woman to lead the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit focused on supporting farmers markets across the United States.

"Our hearts are heavy and she will be dearly missed," Lokal Artisan Foods said in an Instagram post announcing McGill's passing. "She was an inspiration to our immediate and French Toast Bites families and all her friends - and to her fans, students, partners and colleagues in Philadelphia and across America. During this time, we ask for time, compassion and grace - and we want you to know we appreciate all of the love, support and condolences as we mourn this tragic loss."

Since debuting at the Christmas Village in 2018, French Toast Bites have become a major hit, even gaining national press recognition from the likes of Forbes. The snack's success led to the development of offshoot products, including coffee, spices and a beer called French Toast Ale, which Lokal Artisan Foods created in partnership with Yards Brewing Co. in 2021.

McGill and her business have won various awards and accolades over the last few years. Lokal Artisan Foods was named Small Business of the Year by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware in 2020. In 2021, McGill was named one of Metro Philadelphia's 50 Power Women and was selected as the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. 

Lokal Artisan Foods will continue to operate at Cherry Street Pier, as well as other semipermanent seasonal locations like Spruce Street Harbor Park, the Christmas Village and Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary, the company said in its Instagram post. Its current business partnerships also will continue.

A graduate of Temple University, McGill later enrolled in the food marketing program at St. Joseph’s University. She is survived by her daughter and parents.