Los Angeles, Sunday, February 5, 2017 Exclusive interview.
On Friday evening, chef Bruno Serato, owner of the Anaheim White House, located in Anaheim, Orange County, California, is preparing invitations to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the restaurant. Around 11 p.m., he goes home.
He cannot sleep that night. He gets a phone call at 3:30 am in the morning on Saturday. It’s an unknown number, so he lets it go to voicemail. When he listens to the message, he hears that his restaurant is on fire. He calls back and asks the person on the other end of the line if this is a joke. The person insists it is not. He gets into his car and as he exits the freeway he can see the flames.
Around 80 firemen are at work, trying to save as much of the buildings as they can. When Serato is allowed inside six hours later, he can only see devastation --- 80% of the restaurant is destroyed, except for the kitchen. The Anaheim White House was Serato’s only child, since he has no biological ones.
Among the wreckage he finds some objects, including his 2011 Top Ten CNN Heroes trophee and a rosary given to him by Pope Francis during a visit to the prelate.
Since the fire occurred in the middle of the night, no one was on the premises and no one was hurt. The restaurant had reservations on the books until the end of March.
On the brighter side, he had just moved the offices of his charity, Caterina’s Club. This nonprofit organization, founded in 2005, focuses on feeding the youth of America. Serato’s mission has since expanded to providing food for 2,000 kids, seven nights a week, 365 days a year, in 35 locations in 15 cities in Orange County. All the computers and paper work are safe. A generous friend will lend him a kitchen so Caterina’s Club (named after Serato’s mother) can resume its work. He has received so many phone calls offering help, that it should not be a problem to continue preparing pasta for the children. His catering kitchen is at another location, so he can maintain that operation as well.
Even during this time of personal hardship, one of Serato’s concerns on Saturday and Sunday was to help his employees find work elsewhere. On Monday, the reality of the situation will surely settle in as he deals with the insurance company…
Thirty years of love has gone up in smoke, but knowing chef Serato, he will be like the phoenix and rise from the ashes --- not of his predecessor, as the legend goes, but from those of the 1909 National Historical Landmark building that housed his restaurant. Chef Bruno, our heart goes out to you. We shall be waiting for the comeback of the Anaheim White House.
UPDATE: Anaheim White House is undergoing construction and is projected to re-open in October 2017.