SELMA – When Jin Hong Cho and Dais Cho opened a restaurant in Selma 55 years ago, little did they know that decades later their modest eatery on East Front Street would be packed with adoring customers. During a June 2 anniversary celebration, a second and third generation recounted what it’s taken to keep the business running all these years and recalled some of their earliest memories of the restaurant.
“All of us are like family,” daughter Beverly Cho said of the long-time employees, customers and well-wishers invited for the celebration.
The event included a dance by Chinese lion dancers organized by her brother John Cho, a ribbon cutting, buffet and cake. Between her brothers, John and William Cho, the adult children have taken turns managing the restaurant and now, a third generation is keeping the tradition alive.
In the kitchen, Beverly’s other brother, William Cho, and son, Jarrett Green, were busy basting ribs, stir frying and getting help from Green’s girlfriend, May Yang, who prepared spring rolls for the meal.
“All of these people here today have been with us for so long. The workers, friends and people from all the different aspects of our lives have shown us support throughout the years,” Beverly Cho said.
The eldest son, John Cho, 65, said he was a high school freshman when his parents first opened Cho’s Kitchen. When his father emigrated from China, he had little formal education but went right to work. He washed dishes then was promoted to being a cook and was the kind of father who taught more by example than mere words, John Cho said.
“His teaching was by being a role model. My mom would talk a lot, but he was very quiet. He had a strong morality.”
Likewise, their mother washed dishes, made noodles and even worked in a sewing factory when she came to the United States. They worked at other restaurants, first in San Francisco, Visalia and Hanford, before opening their own place in Selma. That was 1963.
“We had a little place before here when he first came to Selma,” William Cho said. “They rented a little diner right on the Golden State next to Haley’s Tire Service.”
Their present location was remodeled from being a pool hall and opened in 1967. A shower was added so their mother could stay overnight if there was extra work to do.
William Cho, 60, was only five at the time and like his siblings, he was put to work in the kitchen cutting vegetables by his mother.
“She always wanted us to become doctors or pharmacists and be smart in school. I did other things, but ended up back here one way or the other,” William Cho said as he stir-fried a large wok filled with broccoli beef. “Liking it has nothing to do with it,” he said with a hearty laugh about working in the family business. “For the older generation, it’s about obligation and making a commitment. Especially for immigrant generations, it’s about the family and working together to try and make it.”
John Cho said he once calculated the number of hours his parents spent working and realized it was much more than an eight-hour day.
“I counted the hours they worked every week and it was 70. I think the restaurant meant a lot to her and it was the same thing with my dad.”
The restaurant was closed on Mondays, but every other day found the Cho parents running the restaurant and the children doing homework upstairs. The kids pitched in as well, but school was at the forefront of their parents’ minds.
“Schooling was important so when we weren’t busy, we’d go upstairs and she had desks for us to study,” John Cho recalled. He worked as a waiter, a busboy, prep cook and cook in the restaurant before heading off to college.
Although their mother would have preferred they have medical careers, the Cho sons grew up to teach at Fresno City College and California State University, Fresno. Beverly’s earned her bachelor's at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in home economics, has owned other restaurants and managed properties for 40 years with different partners. She's also known in Selma for her involvement with the Selma Chamber of Commerce and Central Valley Lions Lionness Club. It’s her son, Jarrett Green, who is taking the helm in the kitchen now.
Green, 38, said the hours may be long but he loves seeing the appreciation on customers’ faces after enjoying a good meal there.
“I’m here six days a week and average 11 hours a day, but I just do what I know best. I learned by watching. I was born and bred to do it,” he said of having worked at the family restaurant for more than three decades now.
“I know four generations of families that have come here. That’s remarkable in my mind. They’re choosing here to come and eat and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. It’s extraordinary,” he said of their loyal customers. “I’m going to keep it going as long as I can.”
Even long-time employees, such as Eva Garcia who’s been there for more than 30 years, said working at the locally owned place is like working with family.
“I like the family atmosphere. It’s been so long now, it’s like a routine that doesn’t feel like work anymore,” Garcia said serving up cake for the party. “People like to go places where they know that you care and you’re treated like you’re at home.”
The Cho siblings reflected on the legacy they’ve inherited, have shared with the community and are now passing on to the next generation.
“They put their heart and soul into it,” John Cho said of his parents’ restaurant. “[My mother] saw family as the most important and she had a very strong passion for what she cared deeply about.”
Surrounded by the chatter of the celebration, Beverly Cho acknowledged that running the restaurant would likely never make them rich, however it’s given Selma a glimpse of the reward of hard work.
“I’m sure my parents are very proud of it. It’s like any business, it’s tough nowadays. You’re not going to make a million dollars but you just try to make a living and survive.”
“I think my dad would be proud,” William Cho added. “When they came here, all they knew was work. They tried to put out what people would like. It’s about perseverance.”