Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, the Anaheim White House, the popular restaurant nearly destroyed in a February 2017 blaze, reopened for service on May 8 to great fanfare. Two special grand opening events, attended by more than 100 VIPs and regular White House customers, took place earlier that week, on May 6 and 7.
“We’re thrilled to once again be serving our customers,” said Sir Bruno, internationally recognized for his tireless work feeding homeless children in the area. “It was a difficult road back, but we’ve arrived. It’s fantastic!”
Things looked anything but fantastic 15 months ago, when Sir Bruno walked through the charred mess that used to be his restaurant the morning after the blaze. Fate, however, can be fickle. What sometimes appears to be a brutal conclusion evolves into a new beginning, a life-changing transition, like the one Serato experienced when he departed Italy in 1980 to visit his sister in California to learn English. He never left.
“I started out as a dishwasher,” Serato says. “Then I was promoted to busboy, waiter, captain and eventually general manager.” The entire process took him only five years.
Serato purchased the Anaheim White House in 1987 after a friend informed him that the OC landmark, built in 1909, had gone up for sale. Although he didn’t have sufficient funds to buy it, the owner at the time liked Serato’s honesty and helped with the terms of the sale.
“I’d had a dream of one day walking into a nice restaurant as its manager,” Serato says. “But I never really thought I’d own one.”
He and his staff changed the Anaheim White House’s interior décor to reflect what the restaurant had become, an Italian steakhouse. Business took off, and in little time Serato was hosting world-famous athletes, politicians and entertainers, such as Jimmy Carter, Gwen Stefani, Pele and Harry Belafonte, among dozens of others.
In 2005, Serato started Caterina’s Club, a nonprofit named after his mother, that to date has fed nearly 2 million hearty pasta meals to thousands of struggling OC kids. For his humanitarian work, he has received more than 100 awards and been profiled in People Magazine, the “CBS Evening News” and newspapers and magazines the world over. He was named a CNN Hero, received a papal blessing from Pope Francis and was knighted by the Italian government.
Sir Bruno has been honored locally, as well.
“Bruno’s kindness to the children of Anaheim and Orange County, through serving them meals and providing other essential needs, cannot be overstated,” says Tom Tait, mayor of Anaheim. “His kindness deserves our admiration and should inspire us to do likewise. He is a treasure to our city and our nation. That’s why I awarded him the keys to our city!”
Thirty years of love and hard work went up in flames on Feb. 17, 2017, when an electrical outlet in the Anaheim White House was exposed to rainwater that had run down between the walls from the restaurant’s second floor. Just like that, the White House was gone; 80 percent of it would have to be built from the ground up. More critically, Sir Bruno and his staff no longer had a way to feed the hungry children.
Caterina’s Club reopened just two days later, thanks to a generous offer by Highway 39 Events Center staff to use their kitchen. “Highway 39 was really helpful, but it wasn’t big enough to run my operation every day,” Sir Bruno says.
That’s when the Diocese of Orange stepped in.
“About five days later, Christ Cathedral called,” he says. “They gave me their kitchen to use – for free – until I reopened my restaurant. It was a gift from God. And every time I go there to work, I feel like just being there is a gift from God. … Everyone there has been so helpful. The bishop and all the staff have all been so amazing and nice. I thank the Lord for the opportunity to work with these kinds of people.”
The Diocese also helped raise funds to help Sir Bruno get the Anaheim White House and Caterina’s Club up and running; part of the proceeds from last September’s ChristFest went toward the rebuild. In addition, a longtime friend created a GoFundMe page that to date has raised more than $201,000. Sir Bruno has hosted two fundraisers of his own.
“The first one, for my employees, was at Highway 39,” he says. “The second one was for the restaurant itself. That took place at Fletcher Jones [Motorcars].”
Before the fire, Caterina’s Club was serving 2,000 kids a day. Incredibly, just 15 months after the fire, Sir Bruno and his staff are now serving 3,500 a day.