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Meet David Machado, Restaurateur

By Cheryl Reid-Simons

Portland restaurateur David Machado knows his business from the ground up, having been both a busboy and a dishwasher when he first began working as a teenager. Today, he owns four Portland restaurants. But he credits his choice of careers less to those early jobs than to a chance encounter in a bar in San Francisco. “I met a guy in a bar who said he was going on vacation and needed someone to fill in for him, bartending at another restaurant downtown.” Machado agreed to help, but the regular bartender never returned from vacation. Two years later, Machado was managing the restaurant.

That’s where he began hearing about the California Culinary Academy opening a new campus. He enrolled, graduating in 1986. He credits his wife, Julie, for financing his education. “Her tips from bartending paid entirely for my cooking school,” he says. “She was investing in our future.”

After a series of jobs and briefly dipping his toe into restaurant ownership in San Francisco, Machado and his wife decided to move to Portland, Oregon, where she had family, and they could buy a home for their own growing family

Machado became a sought-after chef, but by 2005, the ownership bug bit him again. He opened Lauro, then Vindalho and Nel Centro. Today, after selling the first two, his group includes Nel Centro, Altabira City Tavern, Citizen Baker and, at press time, the soon-to-be-opened Tanner Creek Tavern in the Pearl District. With a larger bar and smaller dining area, Tanner Creek will cater to the nightlife and young, socially mobile people attracted to the neighborhood.

While he has an enviable track record, Machado says no restaurant is a sure thing, which appeals to his hunger for challenge. “I love the rebirth, renewal cycle,” he says. “Each restaurant is an opportunity to try to perfect or improve on mistakes you made with previous ones.” It’s his “never-ending quest” to operate a restaurant that achieves, what he calls, the “troika” of popular success, critical acclaim and financial success. “People get one or two, but it’s pretty hard to get all three. For me, I’m always in the quest for the three to come together.”