ANAHEIM, Calif. –The owner of a popular Orange County restaurant destroyed by fire vowed to continue his charitable work of serving 2,000 free meals a day to needy children.
Nobody was hurt in the blaze early Saturday that gutted the Anaheim White House, an ornate Italian establishment that’s been home to white tablecloth celebrations for decades.
Owner and philanthropist Bruno Serato fought back tears as he surveyed the destruction at the restaurant he took over in 1987.
“This is the saddest day of my life,” he told the Orange County Register . “It’s just like the death of my mom. I’m heartbroken.”
Serato used the White House kitchen to prepare hot pasta lunches and dinners for underprivileged kids, as part of his charity, Caterina’s Club, named for his late mother. The charity, which earned him a Papal blessing, feeds 2,000 children a day across 15 cities and 35 locations nationwide, according to the newspaper.
Serato, who came to the U.S. from Italy and started out as a busboy, said he’s had calls from local kitchens offering their facilities to continue the charitable work.
The cause of the fire was under investigation Sunday
When crews arrived on the scene before dawn Saturday, more than half of the building was already engulfed in flames, Anaheim Police spokesman Daron Wyatt said.
After the flames were extinguished, a distraught Serato asked that firefighters try to recover his rosary beads, given to him personally by the pope. Wyatt said firefighters sifted through the rubble on hands and knees and were able to recover the beads.
Investigators estimated more than a $1 million in damage, but the century-old structure appears to be salvageable, Wyatt said.