Cassie Lucas has fed tens of thousands of people since starting her Melbourne-based catering and events business Firecracker in 2012. She makes epic grazing tables that disappear as she steps back after topping the d'Affinois cheese with honeycomb and it’s not because she’s a magician, it’s because people flock. They chat, they gather, they connect all while balancing a drink in one hand and a serving of fried chicken in the other.
She has an impressive strike rate, too – at weddings, even your most fussy relative will rave about a Firecracker dinner. Lucas’s chicken is never served dry and it’s part of the reason why she’s one of Melbourne’s most in-demand small business caterers, but things started to look different two weeks ago.
“All of our events started being cancelled and right now we don’t have another until September,” she says. A lot of those events were weddings, birthdays, corporate gigs and the loss of income was felt by Lucas. “I felt flat as a tack and started to get in a little bit of a panic.”
For her business to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, Lucas knew she had to pivot and think outside the box quickly. She turned to her friend and creative collaborator, Cass Morris, who also runs her cake baking and catering business, Fig & Salt, to brainstorm a solution.
“I asked Cass if we should bring back a take-home meal service called Joyce & Louise we used to run together but under the Firecracker name,” explains Lucas. “But something didn’t feel right and my heart wasn’t singing about this idea because I knew heaps of other local food businesses were in our boat.”
The pair regrouped and came up with an alternative idea. “We thought let’s bring in more people instead of just us – because really the only way we will all get through this is if we all work together,” says Morris.
Lucas adds, “You see all these people fighting over loo rolls who are just in it for themselves and that’s not what’s going to get us through any of this madness, we need to help each other.”
Their quick pivot into fresh, take-home meals launched a week ago and is called Pick Me Up. Based out of Firecracker’s Northcote headquarters, Lucas and Morris have developed a rotating menu of their ready-to-eat savoury meals (including minestrone, curries, salads and slow-cooked lamb), breakfast and lunch packs, desserts and boxed fresh fruit and vegetables, which customers can order online and either collect in person or have delivered to their door.
“You see all these people fighting over loo rolls who are just in it for themselves and that’s not what’s going to get us through any of this madness, we need to help each other.”
The menu hosts a selection from the pair’s favourite local food vendors also doing it tough. “We’ve got fresh produce and eggs from The Common Good store, ice-cream tubs from Billy Van Creamy, and these amazing gluten-free brownies from George at Box Brownies, some people have ordered slabs of them – which is great because she’s lost a lot of her regular cafe orders,” says Morris.
“Mauro from Pausa Pranzo in Preston is making lasagna and honestly it’s going off. He called yesterday and said he ran out of lasagna sheets and may have to start making his own to keep up with take-home orders,” adds Lucas.
The community spirit of Pick Me Up is in full swing. “We’re hoping to keep adding stuff to the menu," says Lucas. You might see bread from Northcote’s All Are Welcome as a future addition, as well as bouquets from a rotation of florists – such as Georgie Boy, North St Botanical and Wild Flos. She's staying optimistic and taking things one day at a time. “Even though we’re not able to connect with people in the way we normally would, we are still able to nourish them in a different way and it feels good.”
Pick Me Up’s weekly menu is online here and available for delivery or pick-up collection from Northcote.