Chances are that by now you’re aware of the fire at the Anaheim White House restaurant, the Italian steakhouse owned and operated for the last 30 years by the much-loved Chef Bruno Serato. The historic building was destroyed Feb. 4 in an early-morning fire blamed on an electrical outlet malfunction. News of the fire was first reported by Serato himself, about two hours after the Anaheim Fire Department received a call saying the restaurant was burning.
Serato posted this to his Facebook page: “I am so sad to post this photo. Can’t stop crying. We lost the Anaheim White House restaurant from a fire during the night…”
The OC Register covered the story extensively. KFI radio, a powerful supporter of Serato and his mission to feed hungry children through his Caterina’s Club nonprofit, immediately rallied forces to support him. Even NBC Nightly News ended its national news broadcast with coverage of the loss, as well as Serato’s inspiring story about feeding the children.
Over the last several weeks, there have been many fundraising events put on by a range of supporters who want to help Serato reopen his restaurant as soon as possible, but more importantly to help him continue to feed the nearly 2,000 children who depend on him for a warm meal each evening; for some, the only one they have each day. As this newspaper goes to press his GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/AnaheimWhiteHouse) is already more than halfway toward the goal of raising $350,000 for the rebuilding effort.
But there is more to the story than a fire and a community rallying. There is a story of faith, Catholic faith, that Serato shared with OC Catholic.
“Watching 60 fireman trying to put down this fire, it was frightening… it was horrible – like a horror movie. You see that stuff in movies,” recalled Serato, as he recounted his first moments on the scene of the fire.
“After two or three hours,” he said, he thought, “Oh my Gosh, the children! I have to feed the children on Monday!” He continued, “Right after that, I got a phone call from Christ Cathedral saying ‘Bruno, we are here for you. We have a very big kitchen.’”
He met with the staff at Christ Cathedral and is now working from the kitchen to continue his ministry for the children.
In doing so, Serato is helping Christ Cathedral fulfill its potential.
“The ancient tradition of cathedrals for the whole town, the whole community, is to be a place of refuge and a place of outreach,” explained Father Chris Smith, rector and episcopal vicar for Christ Cathedral Parish. “From the very beginning here at Christ Cathedral we’ve wanted to develop an outreach ministry, continuing the one that was started when the parish was called St. Callistus. Our dream over time is to be a model of outreach to people who are materially poor and marginalized,” he said.
“When bad things happen – in this case the fire – our faith calls us to find something redeeming through the situation that was bad,” Fr. Chris said. “This was a very good example of that. Out of the ashes is born the opportunity for us here at Christ Cathedral to reach out to those in need and for Bruno to continue to concentrate his energies in this project.”
“I’m so thankful to our bishop and everyone at Christ Cathedral who stepped forward to do my project,” Serato said.
After the fire was put down the fireman asked Serato if there was anything in the restaurant they could help him to find.
“There is only one item,” Serato said. “It’s the rosary that Pope Francis sent me.”
After half an hour of searching, it was ultimately Serato’s niece who noticed something in the ashes and pulled out the remains of his cherished rosary.
“Jesus was not melted, still staying on the cross,” Serato said as he pulled from his pocket the crucifix, still linked to several beads, to show us. “I held it in my hand and said, ‘Jesus you suffered for humanity much more than I do. What I’m suffering today is nothing to compare to what you did.’ I can’t complain,” he said.
“To find this…that is faith. Why do I find this cross in the middle of 5,600-square-feet of fire?” he asked. “There is a reason. I have faith. I feel sorry for those that don’t have faith. What do you do when you don’t have faith? Faith is so strong.. it is everything. I find a cross in the middle of this? Oh, yes.”
Editor’s Note: To contribute to his rebuilding, donate at www.gofundme.com/AnaheimWhiteHouse