French toast-flavored ale? It's sweet — and the backstory of how it came to be is even better.

Megan Sims
·3 min read
Charisse McGill is the founder and owner of Philadelphia's Lokal Artisan Foods and the first Black woman to create her own signature beer in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Facebook)
Charisse McGill is the founder and owner of Philadelphia's Lokal Artisan Foods and the first Black woman to create her own signature beer in Pennsylvania. (Photo: Facebook)

A Pennsylvania woman has crafted her way into history by becoming the first Black woman to create her own signature beer in the state.

Charisse McGill of Philadelphia was inspired to quit her job and enter the food industry after her then 12-year-old daughter made $5,000 on a lemonade stand. “It was definitely a leap of faith. I had a cushy director-level job at a local college; it was great, had great benefits, but I put all that behind because I knew there was something more that I could be doing,” she told Yahoo Life.

With her daughter as her very first funder, McGill was able to launch Lokal Artisan Foods in 2018 featuring her now-famous French Toast Bites dish, which consists of multiple mini French toasts that are sprinkled with powdered sugar and French toast spice, also known as The Only French Toast Seasoning You’ll Ever Need, which is made of “the perfect blend of ground cinnamon, cane sugar and ground nutmeg.”

​For sale during a 6-week Christmas event, McGill says she made 75 percent of the salary that she had just left behind within just 45 days.

Following Lokal’s initial success, McGill says that she has been able to set up shop at major Philly events like The Roots Picnic and Made In America, along with opening two semi-permanent locations in the city. Then, when the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year resulting in lots of festival cancellations, things seemed bleak for the entrepreneur.

“I thought I was out of business,” she admits. “I panicked, I’m not going to downplay that. I definitely panicked … then I had to pivot. …One of my colleagues, she owns a restaurant, she called me and said, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’ I just said, ‘I need a place to cook, a pickup window and take out.’”

Thanks to this call for help, McGill received an opportunity to set up shop at the popular Spruce Street Harbor Park area, which usually attracts a lot of foot traffic. “I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough and that move made me the first Black woman to operate a food establishment in this tourist attraction that’s been there for six years,” she says.

It was not long after this that McGill was tapped for another opportunity from an unexpected place; Doylestown Brewing Company wanted to create an ale that tasted just like her signature spice blend.

Instead of leaving it in the hands of the pro-brewers, McGill decided to learn and help despite the unfamiliar terrain. “I want[ed] to be a part of the process every step of the way, from the malt to the mash to the canning to the labeling,” McGill continues. “I was a part of each step. There are actually French Toast Bites in the beer, so it’s very authentic.”

The rookie beer brewer says that the response to French Toast Bites Ale has been overwhelming, proudly noting that for the first batch, Doylestown Brewing made a month’s supply of the ale and it was sold out within a week.

As the first Black woman in Pennsylvania to have a signature beer, McGill does not take this win lightly.

“It means a lot,” she says. “I don’t mind taking the bumps and bruises to be a trailblazer in this industry. And it kind of like, Kamala Harris said, ‘I might be the first, but I’m definitely not going to be the last.’ So I don’t mind taking those hits so it’s like a smoother path for people who want to come down this journey.”

McGill adds that she plans to release bacon, strawberry and caramel flavored ales in time for Christmas. And, don’t worry, her next goal is to expand nationally.

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