Generous restaurant owner finds priceless gift after business burns down

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Earlier this month, Bruno Serato walked into the nightmare that used to be his dream.

A burned shell is what’s left of the White House restaurant in Anaheim, California.

“There’s the picture that my mom was on,” he said holding up a charred wooden frame.

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Bruno holds the frame that once contained a picture of his mother

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The picture of mom, and pretty much everything he loved, was in this restaurant. 

The restaurant looked very different before the electrical fire, during our first visit in 2010. That story was about this Italian immigrant who catered to the rich and famous just so he could feed the down and out from the local Boys and Girls Club.

Every day, some of the poorest children in Anaheim had been eating from one of the most exclusive restaurants in town.

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Bruno serving kids in 2010

CBS News

At the time, Bruno was giving away more meals than he was selling -- and he was going broke.

“I did a refinance on the restaurant,” Bruno said in 2010. “I refinanced my house also.”

How could he keep feeding those kids? “How can I stop?” he said.

And that devotion is what made the fire so devastating.

“This fire destroyed everything I’ve worked for 30 years. And it’s like, we need to find a kitchen somewhere because we need to do the pasta for the children,” Bruno said.

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The White House, after the fire

CBS News

Unfortunately, that mission was clearly over, or so he thought, until he got home, turned on his computer and learned what happens sometimes when really bad things happen to really good people.

He got thousands of messages online and hundreds more in person; all of them offers to pitch in.

And with that, the man who started serving all those kids on his own was alone no more.

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Bruno Serato

CBS News

More than a dozen caterers and competitors offered Bruno their kitchens for free.  And as a result, he didn’t miss a single day feeding his favorite customers. People have also donated money to help rebuild the restaurant.

Does Bruno think he will ever look back on this and say he’s actually glad the fire happened?

“I already think of that,” he said. “You know when they say you give love and you get 100 times back? I disagree. You get 1 million times back.”

That’s alota karma.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.