TRAVELING THURSDAYS

The Pines Resort

Situated just 17 miles from the Southern gate of Yosemite National Park and 56 miles north of Fresno, CA, sits The Pines Resort.

This lakefront mountain community boasts of tranquility surrounded by a towering pine forest along Bass Lake. It’s a place to go to get away from it all.

With an array of 84 two-story mountain chalets, 20 deluxe lakefront suites or two private, fully-furnished houses, the resort accommodates anyone that comes to visit for either a peaceful weekend getaway or a family reunion.

In 2010, current owners Kyusun and Sunwha Choe invested all of their life savings when they purchased The Pines Resort in the Yosemite National Park. The deal was too good to refuse and they took the plunge. But as with any business, the first couple of years were challenging as they tried to stay afloat keeping their heads above water.

Mark Choe

Their son and Assistant General Manager, Mark Choe, recounts the first days when learning on the fly was all they could do. It was all a matter of going with the flow. But as business picked up and there was more cash flow, they were able to begin renovating the property a little bit at a time. First, the chalets were upgraded followed by parts of Ducey’s Restaurant and many others throughout the resort.

Before purchasing the resort, Ducey’s Restaurant’s hours of operation were limited to a couple of days during the week and summer. But as business picked up and more people discovered the hidden gem, life was invigorated back in and the hours became regular.

Now that the resort is flourishing, the patriarch and General Manager, Kyusun Choe takes more of a backseat approach to managing the property and dad-to-day business. He is more behind the scenes and oversees business from his home office. When he meets with certain people, it is then that he’ll do a general walk through of the property to make sure things are going smoothly.

The family prides themselves in creating meaningful work and a good work environment for their staff of 200. They exude strong leadership skills by focusing on coaching them instead of mirco-managing. They value their team tremendously and are willing to teach them whenever possible because without them, things just wouldn’t be the same.

The matriarch and store Manager, Sunwha Choe operates the General Store seamlessly where she oversees daily business. It’s her pride and joy and she can be found there on a daily basis unless on vacation or on the road.

But as with any immigrant family, things weren’t always easy when Kyusun and Sunwha first arrived to Minnesota from Korea in 1977. With just the bare minimum, they were able to learn English enough to hold down jobs as they worked their way up.

The couple gave birth to Mark and his brother in America and continued working several minimum wage jobs saving up their money along the way all the while raising a family. But because of the many hours his father put in as a hard working immigrant, he barely had any time to spend with his children. They still valued spending quality time with each other and as a result traveled a lot as a family. It is on these trips that they bonded and created most of their memories, securing the importance of travel in their family.

The children were involved in every activity imaginable and were taught that people have to earn what they want and things don’t just get handed to them. “I believe this taught me the ethic of hard work, personal responsibility and how to take action if I wanted something. But most importantly, I think I learned the value of respect and integrity as being the most important factors of leading a business.”

Accumulating their savings over time allowed the family to open up a gift store. Following popular trends of the time, they then traded up and bought a Rock and Roll store. The fact that it did so well allowed them to buy Mail Boxes Etc. (similar to UPS today)

At twenty-four years old, Mark moved to Canada. His father loved the National Parks and at the same time made a move out to Oakhurst, California because of its location near three National Parks (Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia). There, he purchased a 42-unit Days Inn as a semi-retirement business, which is currently known as the Yosemite Sierra Inn. Due to its proximity to Los Angeles and San Francisco, business was great, but every time they sat down for lunch at Ducey’s Restaurant, they would joke longingly and wonder what it would be like to actually own The Pines Resort.

When the recession hit, the previous owners, Greenlaw Partners, (a real estate development company), took a huge hit. It was then that a rare opportunity presented itself in the form of a very steep discount. The development company excelled in flipping properties but didn’t have the necessary expertise or the means to run it. The Choe’s became proud owners of a resort they longed to own and manage.

Mark arrived from Canada a few years later and fell right into his role as Assistant General Manager. With his help, many events were added to the calendar. The events are mostly for locals but also for PR and great for guests as well. Among the few are Yosemite Bass Lake Triathlon, the Half Marathon, and the Double Century bike run. They work with the Visitors bureau and Visit California for PR. Recently, there has been a lot more international presence and a few celebrities. Although there is a scattered array of guests, Germany is high on the list along with the largest tour being from Australia.

For many years, The Pines Resort location was the annual meeting place for a Hell’s Angels conference. In the early 80’s, the movie “The Great Outdoors” was the claim to fame along with a list of others that were filmed right on the property or around Bass Lake.

Mark is always innovating and looking for ways to expand the resort. Having grown up with an artistic brother, he is keen on creating an artist getaway special for the creative guests; one that would limit distractions and allow them to create amidst the serene mountainous environment.

He thoroughly enjoys creating meaningful memories for the guests. “I remember we used to always go to the same motel on Lake Superior in Minnesota called “Lakeview Castle” and it is an important memory setting for my life with my family. The fact that I get to create an experience like that for other people is an honor.”

The charming resort boasts of history and exudes hospitality. “There’s certain people that come out here that love it. It’s their spot. It has its own life,” explains Mark. “There’s a family who has been coming here for 42 years for their family reunion. I wouldn’t ever try to change the essence of what the Pines is too much because it just means so much to so many people. We can improve and adjust things but we want to keep the essence of what is there.”

To make a booking, or for more information, visit The Pines Resort website: https://www.basslake.com/

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