Frank Machado knows what it takes to run a good restaurant. Start with quality that can be tasted in every dish then make every patron feel welcome the moment they walk through the door.
But a great restaurant, has something extra.
“When you come to the Elegant Bull, you get a tablecloth,” said Machado, who opened the Delhi restaurant on New Year’s Eve in 1989. “You get linen napkins. There are rugs on the floor, and those who serve you are wearing ties.”
Such attention to detail makes the Elegant Bull unique, and compelled Assemblymember Adam Gray to honor it as his Small Business of the Year for 2022. Gray made the presentation to Machado, his wife Karen and their staff on Sept. 15 at the restaurant.
“The place is one-of-a-kind,” said Gray. “And so is Frank. Going to the Elegant Bull wouldn’t be complete without shooting the bull with Frank. But the food!”
Some dishes -- Steak de Lisboa, linguica and morcella -- reflect Machado’s Portuguese heritage. But most are fine-dining classics such as filet mignon, prime rib, rack of lamb and chicken prepared three different ways. And the ribs are unforgettable.
The Elegant Bull has been celebrated by readers of the Turlock Journal, the Merced County Times and others. Hundreds of online reviews offer thousands of gold stars.
Machado credits his staff, including a son and daughter working behind the scenes, and a wait-staff with several members who have been at the Elegant Bull for a decade or more. At 92, he works at the restaurant every day.
“First, you try to treat your help in a way you want your clients to be treated,” said Machado. “It’s going to be hard for them to treat that client well if they’re not treated well. The second thing is quality.”
And the secret ingredient? That’s Karen, his wife.
“You’ve got to have love and beauty and you’ve got to have strength, that’s what it takes,” said Machado. “She has all three.”
Karen is a proud cancer survivor, whose journey continues to inspire. And it was Karen who first saw potential in the little building just south of Delhi. Frank was thinking a breakfast spot; Karen insisted it could be something more.
As she puts it: Frank provides the bull; she brings the elegance.
But why start a fine-dining restaurant in a hard-working town of 12,000?
“You’re only the 10,046th person to ask that question,” said Machado, who was raised in Hilmar and now lives in Stevinson. “You’re on Highway 99; millions of people pass by your restaurant every day. I love my little conservative town of Hilmar, and Hilmar also has a highway. But only thousands of people, maybe, pass by it every day. You’re on Highway 99 – how can you lose?”
When Machado returned from the Navy in the 1950s, a cousin helped him get a job in Santa Clara. Soon, he opened a pizza parlor then a nicer place, then another even nicer.
When he opened the Berry Farm in Santa Clara, elegance and atmosphere were his trademarks.
“Silicon Valley started in my restaurant,” he said, describing how patrons would huddle at tables dreaming up the information revolution.
Assemblymember Gray noted something else: “Don’t ask Frank what he thinks unless you really want to know.”
“I don’t do Republicans; I don’t do Democrats,” said Machado, the son of Azorean immigrants. “I’m a patriot. I want to do what’s good for America. Sometimes, the Republicans and Democrats, they fight each other like America don’t mean anything. And that’s wrong no matter how hard times get.”
It’s small businesses like Elegant Bull, said Gray, that help every Valley community in times of need.
“What makes small businesses so important, is that the people who run them know what can be done and what needs to be done. People like Frank, who have been successful for decades, believe in themselves, they believe in their workers and they believe in their community. They don’t mind sharing their success and they don’t mind helping when asked. They do it every day.”
— Assemblymember Adam C. Gray represents the 21st Assembly District which includes all of Merced County and portions of Stanislaus County.