Frank Machado knows what it takes to run a good restaurant. Start with the 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 more.
“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 have linen napkins. There are carpets on the floor, and the who serve you wear ties.”
This attention to detail makes Elegant Bull unique and compelled Assemblyman Adam Gray to recognize it as the 2022 Small Business of the Year. Gray made the presentation to Machado, his wife Karen and their staff on Sept. 15 at the restaurant.
“The place is unique,” Gray said. “And so is Frank. Going to the posh 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 gastronomic classics such as filet mignon, prime rib, lamb and chicken prepared in three different ways. And the ribs are unforgettable.
The stylish 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 the age of 92, he works every day in the restaurant.
“First, try to treat your aid the way you want your clients to be treated,” Machado said. “It’s going to be hard for them to treat that customer well if they’re not treated well. The second thing is quality.”
And the secret ingredient? This is Karen, his wife.
“You have to have love and beauty and you have to have strength, that’s what it takes,” Machado said. “She’s three.”
Karen is a proud cancer survivor whose journey continues to inspire. And it was Karen who first saw potential in the small building in south Delhi. Frank was thinking of a place for breakfast; Karen insisted it could be something more.
As she says: Frank provides the bull; she brings elegance.
But why start a fancy restaurant in a working-class 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 has a highway too. But only thousands of people, perhaps, pass by every day. You’re on Highway 99, how can you miss it?
When Machado returned from the Navy in the 1950s, a cousin helped him find work in Santa Clara. Soon, he opened a pizzeria, then a nicer place, then another even nicer one.
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 customers would gather around tables dreaming of the information revolution.
Assemblyman Gray made another point: “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, son of immigrants from the Azores. “I am a patriot. I want to do what is good for America. Sometimes Republicans and Democrats fight each other like America doesn’t mean anything. And that’s wrong no matter how difficult they are.”
It’s small businesses like Elegant Bull, Gray said, that help all Valley communities in times of need.
“What makes small businesses so important is that the people running them know what can be done and what needs to be done. People like Frank, who have been successful for decades, believe in themselves, believe in their workers, and believe in their community. They don’t mind sharing their success and they don’t mind helping when asked. They do it every day.”
— Assemblyman Adam C. Gray represents the 21st Assembly District which includes all of Merced County and parts of Stanislaus County.