Award-winning philanthropist and chef Bruno Serato was devastated this weekend when the critically-acclaimed Italian restaurant he began in 1987, the Anaheim White House, in Anaheim, Calif., erupted in flames at 4:18 a.m. on Feb. 4. Firefighters from four cities were able to knock down the flames within about 30 minutes, but the damages, estimated at approximately $1 million, will take many months to repair. Insurance will cover only a portion of the recovery bill and will not ease the burden Serato’s employees now face with the indefinite loss of their workplace and jobs.
Worst still, the grieving businessman reported, is his worry for his biggest philanthropic effort: the Catarina’s Club program through which Serato provides meals for 2,000 children a day across 15 cities and 35 U.S. locations. The Catarina Club was born 12 years ago, according to reporting by the Orange County Register, when Serato’s mother, Caterina Lunardi, had spotted a 9-year-old boy, Billy Saldana, during a visit to the Boy’s & Girl’s Clubs of Anaheim, with only a bag of potato chips for his dinner. She implored her son to prepare a pasta dinner for the boy, which he cooked and served within the space of an hour. That experience began his legacy of charitable work.
“It was the first time I’d tasted pasta,” said Saldana, who is now 21 and a group leader at the Boy’s & Girl’s club. In the 12 years since, Caterina’s Club has fed more than one million children. In August, the White House offered free luncheons for 100 Orange County nonprofit groups who were invited to use the catered events for up to 100 people in the restaurant’s banquet hall as fundraisers or for group events.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s fire, the community is once again reminded of Serato’s background. He is an immigrant to the U.S. from Italy, who arrived with just $200 in his pocket. He began his new life in the U.S. as a busboy.
But here is where the silver lining in Serato’s story begins. Frank Groff, a publicist and friend of Serato, has opened a GoFundMe account, “Help Rebuild Anaheim White House.” Noted Groff in the OC Register: “Bruno is known worldwide for feeding children, finding housing for their families and helping at-risk youth land jobs in the hospitality field. He even mortgaged his own home during the recession to keep his charity work going.”
Michelle Kube, executive producer of the Bill Handel Show on KFI, which helps organize the annual KFI and Caterina’s Club PastaThon, said the radio station has been inundated with listeners wanting to help. Serato is no stranger to the press—CNN has previously named him a Top 10 Hero, in fact—but by my own count, the O.C. Register has run five stories about the situation so far in the 32 hours since the fire erupted.