Charisse McGill is the first to admit that patience isn’t one of her strengths. She’s excited and passionate, and wants instant results when it comes to promoting her French Toast Bites – a tasty snack that gained recognition at Philadelphia’s Spruce Street Harbor Park and numerous festivals.
So, when Joe Modestine, of Doylestown Brewing Company, approached the Philly-based Lokal Artisan Foods owner about collaborating on a bite-inspired beer, McGill spent weeks immersed in the slow-moving brewing process. It was a lesson in the waiting game, but the wait was so worth it. Now, McGill is the first black female in Pennsylvania to have her own signature beer.
At 5.5 percent ABV, French Toast Bites Ale is described by McGill as an “anytime ale.”
“You can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert,” she said. “Getting out of the box and getting creative is what gets me up in the morning. I have long been curious about the beer business as I work with so many talented brewers and bars in my hospitality day-to-day life. Doing my own French Toast Bites Ale is a dream come true.”
With flavors of cinnamon, sugar and vanilla, the ale is sweet yet smooth, and consumers will most likely be inclined to have more than one 16-ounce can.
“There’s waffle beer out there right now, and lots of dessert kinds of beer. It’s been done. They’re very flavorful, but the problem is, you really can’t have more than one,” said Modestine. “We didn’t want to go that route. We wanted to be as true to the style and pay homage to the French Toast Bites, but also make a beer where you can have two or three and not be sick of it after the first can.”
Partnering with individuals and organizations to craft a specialty beer is what Modestine and his staff do best. Since its inception in 2011, Doylestown Brewing Company has collaborated on brews with a number of entities, including the If Not Me Then Who Blonde Ale for the Travis Manion Foundation.
Modestine reached out to McGill via Facebook after seeing her entrepreneurial face on TV multiple times.
“She’s just such a go-getter,” he said. “For us, her enthusiasm is something that’s fun to watch.”
When taking into consideration all that McGill has accomplished in just two years, “go-getter” almost seems like an understatement. On Nov. 15, 2018, the now 38-year-old resigned from her day job at Valley Forge Military Academy and College as director of special events to make a living off her French Toast Bites. McGill had an early first investor – her then 12-year-old daughter Madison, who put lemonade stand proceeds into her mom’s new venture.
The bites were an instant success at the Made in Philadelphia Market, with McGill quickly earning back Madison’s investment. In 2019, McGill expanded French Toast Bites to the Bronx Night Market, Made in America concert and other large-scale happenings in the Greater Philadelphia area. The small snack had gained a big reputation, and understandably so.
“If there was a big event in town, French Toast Bites was there,” said McGill. “They’re a little unhealthy. It’s definitely #CheatDay when you get the bites. But what’s important to me is that all the ingredients are natural. You can pronounce everything that’s in there.”
Placed in an easy-to-handle-while-walking cup, the bites are customizable, with toppings like bacon, whipped cream and fresh strawberries available. The French Toast Bites Ale cans were made to resemble the cups.
Despite the bites’ overnight success, McGill thought everything would come crashing down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“I thought my life was over. I built this whole business on outdoor events, lots of people, lots of french toast being sold. So, with no people and no events, not a lot of french toast is gonna be sold,” she said.
After panicking, McGill pivoted.
Over the summer, Spruce Street Harbor Park offered her a vendor space to sell her bites to visitors, and she set up shop at record speed.
“We got straight with the health department, brought our equipment in there in less than seven days,” she reflected. “And that move made me the first black woman to ever operate a food business on Penn’s Landing in the six-year history of the tourist attraction.”
This achievement catapulted her name into wider recognition, catching the attention of not only Modestine, but goPuff. The Philadelphia snack delivery service now brings four-packs of French Toast Bites Ale, totaling $13.49, directly to homes. McGill’s Lokal Artisan Foods is featured alongside iconic brands like Federal Donuts and La Colombe.
In addition to goPuff, the ale is available through Doylestown Brewing Company and at various store locations, including the Old Nelson on Temple University’s campus. As a student from 1999 to 2003 in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management, McGill frequented the shop regularly, and cried when she saw her creation in the cooler.
“It just meant so much because I remember being a student at Temple wishing we could buy beer,” she said. “It was overwhelming and emotional for me. It just came full circle.”
The dynamic duo of Lokal Artisan and Doylestown Brewing plan to collaborate once again, this time on a variety four-pack. Flavors are slated to include bacon and others complementary to French Toast Bites.
Visit lokalartisanfoods.com/french-toast-bites-beer for more information on French Toast Bites, French Toast Bites Ale and French Toast Spice seasoning.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com