'Undercover Boss' Not Shy About His Faith

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ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. -- David Kim has made a career of leading struggling companies out of failure.  It's a skill the Korean immigrant has sharpened since dropping out of college many years ago to start his own video rental businesses. 

Kim's success captured the attention of the hit CBS television show "Undercover Boss." 

However, when cameras stopped rolling, it was Kim's faith that had audiences talking.

An Empire Builder

Baja Fresh is one of the leading Mexican restaurant chains in America, with 400 locations in nearly 30 states. 

Kim is the CEO and runs the multimillion dollar business from a cubicle inside corporate headquarters in Orange County, Calif.

His investment group runs several companies.  Kim's ability to turn around struggling businesses has led some to call him an "empire builder."      

"Most of what we've done in the past is take companies that were struggling financially and actually turning them around," Kim told CBN News. "I seem to get a lot of requests from people who can't make their companies work."

True Success

Kim is the son a South Korean diplomat who was forced to flee the country with his family.  The family migrated to the United States, where they sold goods at flea markets to survive.
Remembering his childhood Kim said, "I felt really bad for my parents having had a very prestigious life as a diplomat to come to the United States and give everything up and have to start over again."

The sacrifice of Kim's parents still reminds him of the importance of family.  He and his wife Jane have three children.

"It's not about turning companies around anymore.  That is not where I define my successes," he told CBN News.

"Of course, success comes from making sure that your children, the next generation, does better than you do," Kim said. "And they become productive citizens."

Undercover Boss

The drive for that kind of success keeps Kim busy at home and on the job. 

That was also a private journey until he agreed to share his life on CBS's "Undercover Boss."  The hit reality show disguises CEOs so they can work alongside unsuspecting employees and learn their jobs. 
The Kim family prayed before agreeing to do the show -- and during the show as well.

"My family and I, we pray.  My kids pray more than I do.  But it's natural for us to pray," he said.
Kim's children prayed before he left home to begin the days of taping. 

With that prayer, Kim became "Ken," a reality show contestant competing for a job with Baja Fresh, while the cameras rolled.

"I did not want to do the show," Kim revealed. "I actually turned it down several times. I wanted to continuously keep the privacy of my family and our life."

A National Witness

Kim and his family waved goodbye to privacy when the show aired. 

Their lives touched millions, especially when Anthony Abinuman, a 20-year-old immigrant, told Kim how he lived with his uncle so he could work and send money home to his mother, two sisters and three brothers. 

Hearing his burden, Kim offered to pray with Anthony.  The unforgettable -- and unscripted -- moment happened outside the Baja Fresh restaurant in Cypress, Calif.

"Right after the show, the amount of people that we got in the thousands, tens of thousands of people, who emailed us, wrote us, talking about 'Finally somebody can come on national television, prime time and have the courage and the boldness to talk about Christ.'"

"And to be honest," he added, "All I did is to pray for a man."

There were thousands of letters, but one overriding message: gratitude for seeing the Christian faith unabashedly on display on prime time television.

"I have never written a letter in my life for any reason, good or bad," one viewer wrote. "After watching "Undercover Boss" tonight, I was moved to do so."

"Today I watched the 'Undercover Boss' show that featured your company.  I admire who you are: a superb son, father and most of all an incredible CEO," another viewer wrote.

"I too am a Christian, and my favorite part of the show tonight was when you and one of your employees shared a quiet prayer together," someone else wrote. "That made me want to write to you and say thank you for reminding me that life is about God, family and strong faith."

Answered Prayer

The show also inspired Baja Fresh employee Abinuman, who is a bit of a celebrity at the Cypress restaurant.   

"It just shows that if you believe in God, God can move in different ways you don't expect.  I never thought that I would be in a show," Abinuman told CBN News.

The show was an answer to prayer for Kim's wife Jane.  It was an opportunity for her children to see faith in action as powerfully as she did as child.

"I have been always grateful to the missionary who came to our country, very primitive country, and sacrifice their lives and really talk about the gospel.  That is the thing that I am most indebted to," she said,

The Kim family now uses the spotlight on their family to remind American Christians of the darkness and oppression in North Korea.

--Originally aired November 2, 2011

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CBN News
Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.