By Callie Hietala
“Hometown Hustle,” a new web-reality series focusing on the entrepreneurial spirit of local small business owners, is set to premier Thanksgiving weekend courtesy of Natalie Hodge and Rudy’s Girl Media.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26, the first two 10-minute episodes will premiere on the Rudy’s Girl Media YouTube channel.
Hodge said there are a total of six episodes in the pilot season, with two new episodes becoming available each week for three weeks. Each episode tells the story of a local business owner in Martinsville or Henry County.
Business owners highlighted in this pilot season are DeShanta Hairston of Books and Crannies, Herb Atwell of Mountain Valley Brewing, Jailyn Draper of Social Butterfly Media Management, Abraham Gonzalez of Ape’s Frozen Yogurt, Teresa Martin of Teresa’s School of Baton and Dance, and Wayne Draper of The TAD Space and Right Now Remediation, Restoration, & Repair.
Hodge said the lineup was specifically selected to showcase the diversity of both owners and businesses in the community and to highlight businesses that were at different stages in their development, from the very new to the well-established.
The series is hosted by Hodge. Devin Pendleton produced the show, along with attorney Michael McPheeters, who served as executive producer. It was shot and edited by K.J. Harkness and Jason Cahill of VLNZ. “Hometown Hustle” was created in partnership with the Martinsville Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG) and MHC Pay it Forward. The Harvest Foundation contributed funds for marketing.
“Hometown Hustle” has its roots in Hodge’s childhood.
A graduate of Laurel Park High School, Hodge said, “I grew up with a father who ran a convenience store that his parents founded in the late 1940s in Leatherwood.”
A young Hodge served as the unofficial assistant manager, pumping gas, stocking shelves, doing anything and everything that needed to be done to contribute to the running of the family business.
“I learned about business from (my father.) I never had the desire to open a convenience store, but I knew that I would be a business owner. It just had to be,” Hodge said.
For years, Hodge searched for the right fit, but it wasn’t until she started working in the entertainment industry that the stars began to align. After living and working in various places around the U.S. including New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles, Hodge eventually returned home and founded Rudy’s Girl Media. The company, Hodge’s first solely independent venture since her return, takes its name from the names of her parents and is a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit her family instilled in her.
In building that business, “I started to have the journey of someone here being in business in Martinsville and Henry County, which is different than someone being in business in New York or L.A,” Hodge said, and as she began to network with other business owners, she fell in love with the stories and the beginnings of their businesses.
Hodge said that some people got laid off from their jobs and turned their hobby into a business. Others, like Hodge, grew up around a family business, realized that being an owner themselves was a natural next step. Some, she said, are serial entrepreneurs who have owned multiple businesses and finally found something that was “it.”
“I love those stories,” she said.
None of the success stories Hodge saw showcased in film and television focused on people from a little town in Southwest Virginia.
“I felt like that story specifically needed to be told, and I felt like this was the place to do it,” she said, and added that she came home to a community ready to come together and help make independent projects come to life.
While working on “Sell,” a short film that was one of her company’s earliest projects, she said she was stunned by the support she received.
“It took off,” she said, “The ways that people chipped in for this project” that premiered on Thanksgiving weekend in 2019, were different from what she experienced working in places like New York.
“We had sold out shows for the whole weekend,” Hodge recalled. “It felt so good to be in a space where people were extremely grateful to have this little production happen here.”
She found even more support during the filming of her next project, “Stolen Crowns,” which was created during the pandemic.
Not only were people willing to lend their time, their spaces, or even their cars, but Hodge recruited talented people from the area to contribute to the films.
“There are people here who don’t know how good they are,” she said. “I’ve worked with people here on the technical side who are better than some of the people I’ve worked with in the larger markets. It’s just the people here don’t know that what they’ve learned through YouTube videos and doing it on their own is competitive” in the industry.
Hodge said she wanted a fun, lighthearted energy for this project, and she hopes to inspire others.
“I wanted people to get not only the story of the business owner, but to understand how they could be a business owner,” she said, and added that she hopes the stories told in “Hometown Hustle” are relatable to viewers who also may have a spark of an idea for owning their own business but may not believe they can make it a reality.
“We’ve all had that internal conversation, ‘I don’t have the skill set to be able to pull this off,’” she said.
But “there are so many resources here,” which Hodge has used. “I have knocked on those doors. I know there is a genuine desire on the part of our community to help small business owners, but we have to do our part too.”
Hodge selected business owners from different stages in their careers and business building. She wanted to make sure those she filmed were comfortable sharing both the highs and lows, the struggles and successes of creating a small business.
Ultimately, Hodge said she hopes the series will be picked up by a larger platform. The pilot season will showcase the concept, and she hopes to film subsequent seasons with a larger budget.
“Hometown Hustle” will mark the third year in a row that Rudy’s Girl Media releases a locally made project on Thanksgiving.
“I remember growing up here and having left, so many people came home Thanksgiving weekend. Everybody came back from school, everyone was here, there was a lot of activity. It was a good vibe, and everyone’s always looking for something to do Thanksgiving weekend and we built on that these past couple years,” Hodge said.
She initially thought the series would be released in summer, but delays pushed it back.
“There was a certain point when I realized there was a delay because it needed to be released Thanksgiving weekend,” she said, and added she decided that no matter what other projects she might be working on elsewhere, locals can expect a new Rudy’s Girl release each year around Thanksgiving.
“I really want to have that hometown production with local people for Thanksgiving weekend,” she said.
To learn more about “Hometown Hustle,” visit www.rudysgirl.com/hometownhustle.