Looking to the Past to Shape the Future
A spotlight on Keith Hester of Hometown Cinemas in Texas
The door opens to a friendly “Hi, Welcome to Hometown,” in a Texas drawl, coupled with genuine smiles from the teenage staff. In a quick exchange of thrill and efficiency, the drink is fizzing and a happily full bucket of popcorn makes its way toward the darkening theatre, clutched in the hands of one of the regulars. The freshly cleaned theatre is full of familiar faces, and as the music starts, it’s hard to focus on anything but the beautiful picture filling the screen. Instantly, the tiny community created inside this theater are citizens of another world. Eyes sparkling with innumerable possibilities, within moments, the theater has faded away and the adventure has begun.
This is the experience Keith Hester strives to provide for his patrons at Hometown Cinemas across Texas. In running his family business, Keith is passionate about honoring his father’s legacy while effortlessly making his own mark as a leader. Recently assuming the position of Director of Operations, Keith has taken his beliefs about service and excellence and put them into practice at all 5 of Hometown’s locations (Gunbarrel City, Lockhart, Mineral Wells, Seguin). As the number of locations increases (adding two locations last year alone), his desire is to make each location of Hometown Cinemas feel full of community and comfort, while maintaining the mystery and joy of good old-fashioned movie-going fun.
“There’s nothing better than the feeling of folks coming home from college and walking into the theater on Christmas. The nostalgia, the warmth, that’s what we are here for,” Keith generously shares.
But it isn’t just the movie-going experience that Keith is passionate about. Any business-owner wants to provide a great product and maintain a great relationship with their employees to encourage efficient work. The most sought-after job for students in his community, Keith has an uncanny ability to retain employees for years who feel connected to the business and their team. The question is how? Why? In a culture where Instagram influencers and brand ambassadors are often the same age as his employees, what makes a student WANT to work for Keith?
Well, unlike most people in his position, Keith has truly worked from the bottom up. His first paying job was as an usher in a movie theater as a teenager, no different than his employees today. Keith explains, “You know, if I hadn’t done that, and hadn’t worked as an employee myself and done the things I was asking them to do, I never would have understood…I would have had unrealistic expectations.” It’s with this knowledge that he has a particular philosophy when it comes to engaging with his employees.
“These kids are people. All of my employees are people. These are human beings. They should be treated with respect, and then hopefully they gain more out of the job than just learning how to serve popcorn: A level of professionalism or areas of ethics and being honest and feeling supported by management. You know, I tell them—even if you make a mistake but you had good intentions and you were trying to do the right thing, I will back you up.”
Keith’s investment in the youth of today doesn’t just extend to his employees. Keith recently had the opportunity to share his expertise in video editing and content creation with local Lockhart students. This small introduction quickly ignited the student’s interest and passion to learn more tangible skills, and opened the door to a new instructional relationship. He worked closely with the students to refine their skills, editing a project they had already created to promote their Career and Technology Education program. Flourishing under his support, the Chamber of Commerce is now offering the AV students an opportunity they have never had—to have their work displayed in state-of-the-art theater quality.
In support of the Chisholm Trail Roundup, an annual event honoring Lockhart’s historical place in the cattle trade, the students will create and produce a promotional video that entices residents across the state to engage in this vital community celebration. But Keith’s approach doesn’t just stop at teaching the students how to make a fun video. He asks, with fervor, “What’s your message?”
“The trail has a very significant history… the town wouldn’t exist without it. So, I had the kids look that up. I had them learn what they’re doing here, what this means to the community. We aren’t just making a video and moving on. Know what you’re doing here, know what it means to the community. Y'all would not be at this school and have this great program if it weren’t for this historical event that created Lockhart and put us on the map.”
From his commitment to his employees to the students he is passionate about teaching, Keith and Hometown Cinemas are clearly in this business for more than the bottom line. At the helm of Hometown Cinemas, he shows his company’s support of the community by investing financially in community events like the Chisholm Trail Roundup and the Kiawanis 5K annually. Personally, he has served on the Chamber of Commerce (Chairman), served on the Advisory Committee for the Career and Technology Education programs at the High School, and is an avid supporter of the Girl Scouts through cookie purchases.
In his own words, “I love to serve, it’s what fills up my tank.”
Keith’s intentional efforts to engage in his community make Hometown Cinemas truly feel just that—a place where you can walk in and have the staff call you by name and welcome you warmly, where you might sit beside the mayor and enjoy a great film, a place that feels like…well, home.