Korean immigrants take risk, find success as owners of Pines Resort

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- With the Sierra National Forest backdrop and sparkling warm waters of Bass Lake, it's no wonder visitors keep coming back to Pines Resort.

"It's nice to see the boats going back and forth and the water skis," says Oliver Seely.

And draws in new guests, like the Cassara family, who are visiting from SoCal.

"I couldn't think of a better place to be, it's absolutely breathtaking," says Jeremy Cassara.

In 2010, Mark Choe's parents purchased the lakefront property with limited experience running a resort of this scale.

"It's like, two Korean people have barely owned a Days Inn, they had owned it for about five years when they were about to take this over," he said.

His parents, Kyu Sun and Sun Wha Choe, invested their entire retirement savings.

But the journey wasn't easy.

Mark's father, Kyu Sun, emigrated from Korea to Minnesota in the late 70s with only a little bit of money and didn't know English yet.

"He had struggled so much and he had to invest and believe in himself so much, so many times in his life, that I think he had a self-confidence that he would be able to figure things out as he went," Choe said.

He worked two jobs as a factory worker and janitor to survive, and eventually opened up his first business in Minneapolis.

"It became the Rock and Roll spot in Minneapolis during the 80s, early 90s when rock and roll was huge," Mark said.

But the bone-chilling winters drove the family to move to Central California.

Now, 11 years from the purchase, through the COVID-19 pandemic and a staff shortage, they're still succeeding against the odds.

"I feel very blessed that I'm able to come in with a family business, and my dad's done so much work to create such a great opportunity for me," Choe said. "I'm just very curious to see what I can do."
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