Chef Bruno Serato is an energetic, fun, generous, one-of-a-kind person who is passionate about providing kids in need with healthy, hot meals every single day; and giving them hope for a better future.
Chef Bruno and his foundation, Caterina’s Club, are known nationwide for the work that they do for kids and their families, and Chef Bruno has received many important awards and honors. He is so inspiring because he is proof that one person’s dream and acts of kindness can make the world a better place, save lives, and cause others to stand up and fight for what is right.
Even during those times a few years ago, when the economy was bad, Chef Bruno sacrificed his own money to make sure that he could still provide the pasta meals for the kids. Now that’s a hero’s heart!
In addition to running his upscale Italian restaurant, the Anaheim White House, and preparing meals for kids, Chef Bruno works tirelessly to keep the public and organizations aware of the needs in our communities across the nation; and to promote support for Caterina’s Club, so that the program can continue to grow and provide kids with free, hot meals.
He has appeared on major network news stations and numerous TV programs, and has been featured in major newspapers. Recently, Chef Bruno and Caterina’s Club celebrated their “1 Millionth Meal Served”! And he appeared on the TV show The Real, where Catarina’s Club was presented with a $20,000 donation and over 11,200 pounds of pasta from New World Pasta!
It was an honor for me to meet Chef Bruno at his restaurant, the Anaheim White House, where he took the time to let me interview him.
When you were a kid, were there others besides your Mom, who inspired you to be generous and give to others?
Yes, my Godfather was from Russia. He was a very generous man. My mom obviously saw this in him.
How much food and time does it take to feed the Orange County Caterina’s Club kids for one day?
Well, we serve 1,200 meals in one night. So, this takes 100 pounds of uncooked pasta and 20 gallons of marinara vegetable sauce. That fills about about 33 deep dish, 6inch pans a night.
How many people do you have helping to prepare all of the food?
One chef, his sous chef, and two kitchen staff. They spend a lot of time prepping!
It takes a lot of special people to help an organization like Caterina’s Club be successful and grow. Who are some those people and organizations that help you feed the kids?
Well, first and foremost, it is all of our sponors and donors make it possible for us to function as an organization. In particularly, my nephew, who is the General Manager of the restaurant and the VP of Caterina’s Club, Sylvano Ibay is significant to the program’s success and operation. Then, there is my right hand gal, Kaylee Duff who is my Assistant Executive Director, who helps with the day to day operations and coordination of the program as well as events, and future development of programs.
Have any of the kids that you’ve helped over the years, come back to help you feed the current Caterina’s Club kids?
Since we started not to long ago, the original kids are just now starting to turn 18, which you can imagine how busy the teens are. However, Billy, a boy who was in the very first group of kids who I fed on April 18th, is now a program director at the Boys and Girls Club he once attended. He is mentoring the kids, and making an impact in their lives. I am extremely proud of him, and so happy that he gets to serve the kids the pasta dinner he once ate, and still does ;)
Have you inspired any of the kids to want to become professional chefs?
Oh of course! Every time I visit a club, a new kid is telling me how he or she has decided to become a chef, and they want to take a picture, and talk about how excited they are to get a chef jacket of their own. We are in the process of creating curriculum for our children for a culinary program both after school and during school at Skyview Elementary. I want the children to have an opportunity to learn the industry, and realize this is yet another career path they can choose to take should they find themselves passionate. So, once the kids will have access to this, I hope it can inspire more of the children, and provide them with some direction as they begin High School, and for some, begin thinking about college.
How can people get involved in helping Caterina’s Club?
First, I would suggest to everyone, to start their own! They can find out how, by visiting our website, downloading our “starter kit” or contacting Kaylee to learn more. Next, I say, if you don’t have the time, donate pasta and sauce or make a monetary donation to Caterina’s Club, and we will carry out our mission, in which you believe in, for you!
You not only help kids get healthy meals every day, you also help homeless families get safe housing. Will you please tell us more about that?
Ah, my favorite part. So, I began to talk to the kids more, and learn that those living in motels do their homework on toilet seats, taking turns, have low confidence levels, and do not have many friends because of the embarrassment. It kept me awake, too many nights, thinking about this reality. So, I thought WHY are they living here. I investigated a bit more into the plight of motel living, and found out why and together with the Illumination foundation, found a remedy. These families are hard working, full time, and paying monthly rents, though divided nightly, sometimes they are paying even 1,600 in rent! They are stuck in a monthly cycle, paying day to day, and not able to save the first and last months rent or security deposit required to move into an apartment or condo. So, I thought if that is the push they need, I will find a way to provide it! So, this is what we do, and we have moved out 82 families so far. It better be 100 by the end of this year. The lack of affordable housing and high rents in OC is a issue many of us are addressing throughout the county. Living in a motel, denies these families of “place of residency” and they are legally homeless.
How can others get involved in helping you provide housing for those in need?
This is a very complicated program, that requires specialists and case managers, financial advisors, housing specialists, etc. So, for this program, we suggest supporters to sponsor a family or make a monetary donation of any amount, to contribute to the high cost of moving a family out. We also ask that those listening, please bring awareness to friends or family or anyone they know, that we exist, and to extend our information to those who might find themselves down on their luck and living in the tenement style conditions of a motel. So, in short, donations and awareness is what this program needs.
Do you have a favorite story or two about any of the kids and families that you’ve been able to help?
A little boy named Anthony, whom we have fed for years, we moved him and his mother out of a motel. His mom sent me an email not to long ago, with news that Anthony, who once struggled with academics and anger/behavior problems, had received student of the month! Another story, of course, is Billy, who now works at the Boys and Girls Club, and who was there with me as I cut the ribbon to serve the one millionth meal.
You’ve been encouraging people all over the nation to get involved in caring for those in need in their own cities. Who are some of the individuals, organizations, and cities that have joined you in the fight against hunger and homelessness?
Barilla Corporation, Academia Barilla restaurants, Madison Square Brooklyn Boys and Girls Club, Chicago Boys and Girls Club, a gentleman in Brownville Texas and his team, named Kenneth Parks. All of these philanthropists have taken on the role, and begun identical programs in their home town. There have been multiple locations in Northern Italy as well!
What are your short term and long term goals for Caterina’s Club and your other charitable endeavors?
Continue to feed 5,000 meals a week at our 23 locations, throughout 10 cities. And expand to every after school location in California in need, starting with the county of Orange, then LA, then San Bernardino.
Move 100 families out of the dark environment of a motel by the end of 2015, so we have 18 more to go before the year’s end.
Make sure no child, in America, goes to bed hungry. That every child has a warm, cooked, nutritionally balanced meal to warm their stomachs and contribute to their experience of dinner, comradery, and family values. This is a huge task, but together, we can do it.
End the plight of motel living. Contribute in the fight for affordable housing in this county, and in others.
What would you say to encourage someone who wants to help others, but doesn’t know how to begin, or is concerned about what it might cost them?
Do not let fear or worries keep you from your greatness. Find a way, and do not try to do it alone. Find others to help, to partner. Find restaurants, find friends, find partners who are like minded, to gather, and work together with you to make the program work. It is a system that can bring great change, but one man/woman who prompts it. Be the one to prompt the system. Approach restaurants, ask me questions! I am here to be a resource for you, if you are trying to bring the same mission to your community. It won’t be easy, you might have to refinance your house like me, but be brave.
What message or legacy do you want to share with the world?
“It is time to stop talking about it, but to do something about it. If I can serve one million meals alone with my team, hand in hand together, we can serve BILLIONS!”