Melbourne equals coffee. A family business in Preston Central is part of our café culture’s proud history: Lucchini Café has its origins back in the late 1940s, boasting a direct link to the time when Melbourne’s love of coffee was established. This was the era when Italian migrants introduced Melbourne to real coffee, pizza and good cakes, changing the city forever.
The first Lucchini café was a family business in Carlton, a cake and pastry shop opened in 1949 by the uncle of current owner John. John and his wife Sonia are understandably proud of their café’s history. “This is a third-generation business,” they tell us. “We’re going to be in a book about the oldest cake shops in Melbourne.”
Right now Lucchini is celebrating 46 years of being in business by selling their cannoli at a special price of $1.40 each. It’s worth a visit for that reason alone.
The old street signs on the building say Lucchini Gourmet Food Cakes and Coffee, and Wedding Cakes Made to Order. “We used to sell bonbonnieres, sugar almonds, continental cakes,” Sonia says. Lucchini also has a sister store in the Preston market. “At the same time my husband bought this shop, the owners didn’t want to sell them separate. We’ve been in Preston market for 46 years, same thing as the café, selling biscuits and sandwiches and cakes.”
Lucchini is special for many reasons. Practically everything is house-made by their pastry chef. “Everything is made on the premises except the gluten free things; we’re not allowed to do those here,” says Sonia. “The pies, the phyllos, all the cakes … All made out the back.”
Sonia misses the old coffee machines. “We always have Gaggia. Our coffee machine is one of the newer ones. They don’t make coffees like the old ones. They’re all push buttons, all electronic. The old ones were manual.”
Besides the cakes on display, the first thing you notice when you go into Lucchini is the artwork everywhere – the walls are covered with colourful paintings, all in different styles but they somehow hang together. Two big ones stand out.
“Those big bright paintings are made by an aboriginal girl,” says Sonia. “She made us a beautiful Marilyn Monroe painting. I took it home.”
Along with all the paintings overhead there’s couple of gorgeous retro pendant lampshades in the form of a parachute and hot air balloon, and several ‘sculptural’ pieces from the punk days of the early ‘80s. One is a mannequin torso whose head is shot through with spikes and the other a baby doll in a wooden frame contraption – not things you expect to see in a cosy Italian café in the suburbs. John collects them.
“I’ve named them all,” he tells us. “That baby is Keith. I called him that cos I hate the name ‘Keith’; That’s Miss O’Connor. She was in a gallery in Plenty Road. I ummed and ahhhed but I couldn’t resist her. She’s obviously done by someone a bit warped. I put her together with the baby. The artist walked in one day, he looked around and said ‘Who put the baby with her? Who put them together? I said that they seemed like a good match. He said ‘they are a good match. I created them both!’”
Lucchini café is clearly a well-loved Preston institution. Regulars have been coming in for decades, enjoying the welcoming feel of the place. Sonia always makes time to talk to people.