by Steven Sanchez
The Academy Award-nominated film Minari (2020) tells the story of a family of South Korean immigrants who try to make it in the rural United States during the 1980s. There have been very few stories like that told on the big screen, but the truth of the matter is that there are so many accounts of immigrants coming to this country for a better life and to live the “American Dream.” They come from all walks of life and represent different cultures. That is one of the things that makes this country amazing. For those that find success it’s their contributions that keep America pushing forward to prosperity. It’s never been an easy journey for those who are minorities; it’s their perseverance and ambition that drives them to look past bigotry to find their place in society. And no matter who you are or what you believe, you have to admire people like that. With the Choe family, their real-life story is like a movie.
The Choe family owns and operates The Pines Resort and Ducey’s at Bass Lake. The Pines Resort has been through many changes over the years, changing ownership several times. But when the patriarch of the family, Kyusun Choe, bought it in 2010, he turned it into one of the top 10 resorts in America, as reported by USA Today. He continues to serve as the CEO.
What makes this story even more interesting—you couldn’t script it any better—is that Kyusun started operating the business without any prior experience of operating a big resort. That’s been his approach and philosophy for most of his life; he might not have the education or experience to do the things he has done—own a store, run a Days Inn Hotel, and now operating The Pines Resort—but he follows his passion, and it has taken him a long way.
Ever since he got involved with The Pines Resort, the family has updated their guest rooms and amenities, which include a full-service marina, an art gallery, gift shops, and more. The location is terrific, since they’re located just 17 miles south of the south entrance to Yosemite and 55 miles north of Fresno. They offer a rustic escape within driving distance of some of California’s greatest attractions.
This whole project was Kyusun’s dream. And soon he would involve the rest of his family.
His youngest son, Mark, serves as general manager and has been in that role for the past two years. He switched ambitions from attending art school to now overseeing the day-to-day operation. Mark has put a lot of emphasis on their social media presence, video marketing, and engagement. In this day and age of influencers, review sites, and all other media where people speak their minds and leave reviews, he’s aware how important it is to make a good impression. They’re keeping up-to-date with new viral trends, by joining TikTok, for instance, to set themselves apart from other vacation spots in the area and to publicize the fun, energetic activities that the lake offers, and to express that vibe on these platforms. Their followers are constantly updated with new events, room offers, and discounts to entice people to visit year-round.
Kyusun’s entrepreneurial spirit is what drives him, and he incorporates that into drawing out the best from all his employees. Diversity isn’t just a goal for him, it’s everywhere behind the scenes. If you look around the resort and see the workers who wear The Pines nametag, you’ll see a varied community of people from all walks of life who pride themselves on giving their best to their specific jobs. That was the culture the Choes wanted to establish once they took over. Not only because they’re actually a family, but they wanted to ensure a great work environment…the feeling of family.
The resort faced its biggest challenge with the pandemic, but it managed to thrive. Now that the lockdown has been lifted, and vaccines are being distributed, California is opening back up fast. A lot of things that were postponed in 2020—such as weddings and vacations—are picking up, and those are things that the resort offers. Because of the demand they’re looking forward to a busy year.
Their story was featured in a documentary for a streaming service in Korea, www.ondemandkorea.com, that is considered the Korean Netflix. The documentary series is Against The Odds—CEO and their episode is called “Pines Resort.” The website describes the series as depicting “Korean-American entrepreneurs during the pandemic, who are chasing dreams of finding success through starting their own businesses in America.” The documentary recounts the Choes’ backstory and shows first-hand how they deal with the many responsibilities that come with running the resort, along with gorgeous images of the lake.
There may be no movie about them, but The Pines Resort and Bass Lake have been used as settings for feature films in the past. Kings River Life did a big feature last summer where we got in-depth information about how Hollywood has utilized the scenic beauty of the lake ranging from Carnival Boat (1932), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Hiawatha (1952), Meatballs 4 (1992), Mouse Hunt (1997), The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991), which co-starred area resident Richard Kiel—known for portraying the Jaws character in the James Bond films. But the main feature of the article, and the film everyone remembers, is The Great Outdoors (1988) starring Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. The film was written and produced by John Hughes, the man behind ‘80s classics like Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), and would achieve his greatest success by penning what would become the highest-grossing comedy for its time: Home Alone (1990). The film was shot at The Pines Resort for six weeks in October of 1987. The residents got to see it being made, and some actually got to be in the movie. They still remember the time a Hollywood production was in this neck of the woods—a memory that they’ll never forget.
The Pines Resort has been the host for lifelong memories for a lot of people. But for Kyusun and his family, everything about this place, from every room, chalet, the food—all of it is his dream come to life. The resort has served as a monument, mainstay, and brand that many people know in the Central Valley. Through all the adversity and challenges, from the 1988 kitchen grease fire that burned the structure to the ground, and the pandemic, the lakefront hub isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The family built a vision together. For whoever is next in line who decides to follow in Kyusun’s footsteps, the resort will continue to carry on the dream.
To book your stay:
The Pines Resort social media:
To watch the documentary (requires a subscription):