Returning to School Fuels Entrepreneur’s Sweet Success

By Julia Snyder, Saint Joseph’s University

Charisse McGill has one core principle; you’ve got to be the first, the best or the only.

“A lot of people go back to school to get a better job. I went back to school and then quit my job,” explains McGill, an MBA candidate in Saint Joseph’s University’s food marketing program offered through the Haub School of Business. “I didn’t go back to school so I could get a higher-paying job or to help another company reach their million dollar sales goals. I went back to school purely selfishly: to learn everything I need to know so that I can have a business that meets my million dollar sales goals.”

McGill considers herself a full-time student and a full-time entrepreneur, embarking on the second leg of her education while building a snack-food empire based around French toast. After watching her 13-year-old daughter Madison make a splash at the Lansdale Farmers Market over the summer selling lemonade infused with local fruits and herbs, McGill decided that it was time for a product of her own. “We did a couple ‘proof of concepts’ over the summer, like the Swarthmore Food Truck Co-Op and the World Music Concert Series at the Abington Art Center,” McGill says. “We looked for a lot of opportunities to work out the kinks, because I always knew I wanted to do the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market.” From November 17 to January 1, the aroma of McGill’s French toast bites drew customers in to the holiday market from down the block. “I knew when people would stand in line for 30 minutes in 32 degree weather, I was on to something,” says McGill.

Now, the self-aspiring “Auntie Anne’s of French toast” is focusing on bigger plans; in addition to the grand opening of two permanent locations in Northern Liberties (April) and Limerick (August), McGill has also made a connection through her courses at Saint Joseph’s that will be putting her french toast seasoning on the shelves both virtually and in grocery stores. “You have to go by faith and not by sight,” says McGill. “I know that joining and enrolling in Saint Joseph’s was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

McGill says that the support from her professors helped her in the early formation of her business — she recalls calling the program’s director at 7 p.m. one night in a panic and getting a call back at 7 a.m. the next day to talk her through a problem — and that the support of the community has helped the business grow stronger. “At least 10 of my classmates came down to support me over those 45 days [at the holiday market,” she says. “They came with their boyfriends, they came with their moms and one woman even came up to me and said ‘My daughter goes to school with you!’ Just knowing that the word gets around and the community was overwhelmingly supportive. You can’t buy that.”