Bruno Serato, right, hugs Nan Parsons, a longtime customer to his restaurant, during a recent retirement party. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / October 5, 2011)

Bruno Serato says his Italian mother is responsible for his good deeds.

It started when she spotted a boy eating potato chips at a Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim donation ceremony.

When Caterina found out the chips were all that boy and other children at the club were having for dinner, she told her son to cook for them at his restaurant, the Anaheim White House.

"I had to say yes because I had to listen to my mom," said Serato, who lives in Huntington Beach.

That night — April 18, 2005 — he fed about 70 kids.

"I didn't expect it every day," said Michael Baker, the Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim executive director. "Here's a gentleman who's got a restaurant [where] he could certainly just cater to the wealthy and people who want to go there and pay a decent price … but he chooses to help those who are much less fortunate."

For his work, Serato has been named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes this year. The top hero will be selected Dec. 11. People can vote for their favorite at http://www.cnn.com/heroes.

In addition to the $50,000 each of the 10 has received, the winner will get $250,000 toward their organization.

"If he's not a hero, I don't know who is," Baker said.

Today, Serato's organization, Caterina's Kitchen, feeds about 250 to 300 kids a day at three club locations in Anaheim. Most of the kids live in motels.

"Some people are in denial that we have a problem in Orange County, which is a rich county," he said. "Some people are in denial that in America we have kids that go to bed hungry."

When CNN announced the top 10 heroes Sept. 22, Serato was on the phone with his mother in Italy wishing her a happy birthday.

He said he cried when he heard his name.

"It's a big honor," he said. "I'm proud to do that as an Orange County resident, and I hope Orange County citizens are proud that one of their locals is doing something this major. This has a huge impact, not only for myself, but for Orange County as well."

Serato came to the United States about 31 years ago with a few dollars in his pocket. He worked almost nonstop until he was able to open the White House restaurant 25 years ago.

But when the economy took its recent hit, his business struggled. He wasn't sure he could continue to feed the kids.

"I was put in a spot that wasn't the best economically," he said. "I just gave a call to God and told him to help me, to keep doing what I'm doing, and God has helped me."

Serato's challenge to others is to find a way to keep children from going to bed hungry, including donating pasta and tomato sauce to his organization.

"We're supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world," he said. "I want to feed kids in India, in Africa, but I should start feeding kids in America first. My own home, my country."

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia