The Sweet Spot: One Dallas Ice Cream Shop Also Serves Its Employees

Howdy Homemade’s hiring goals are making a unique impact.

With 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in the restaurant industry, Tom Landis wondered if his restaurants could do more than just serve customers. Maybe his restaurants could also serve its employees.

That was the inspiration behind Howdy Homemade, a Dallas ice cream shop that opened in December 2015. Staffed by young adults with special needs, Howdy Homemade has tapped into a huge need. Landis explained, “There are over 240,000 people in North Texas with special needs, Down syndrome or who are on the autism spectrum that no one gives a chance.”

At Howdy Homemade, Landis’ employees work the cash register, interact with customers, serve food and learn retail and management skills. And, according to Landis, this is rare. Most restaurants limit what people with special needs are allowed to do.

But Landis knew his employees were capable of more. Chase had a strong hunch he was right and provided the funding to get Howdy Homemade started.

After decades of working with the bank to fund other restaurant ventures, Landis was unsure if he’d find support for such a bold idea, but Chase responded to his pitch with a $25,000 initial loan. “It was more than just supporting the idea,” said Landis. “They truly put money behind the idea.”

Howdy Homemade’s employees are learning more than just how to scoop ice cream. They’re gaining important financial skills, including how to start their own bank accounts, how to get their own credit cards and how to set up direct deposits, in addition to actively contributing to the local economy. They’re also developing confidence, social skills and motivation that will radiate throughout the community.

Take Benjamin as an example. As a 17-year-old on the autism spectrum who just graduated high school, he faced what is commonly known as “the cliff,” when structured learning environments fall off for students with special needs. On his first day at work at Howdy Homemade, he barely made eye contact with customers. Now, he’s the first to say “Howdy” when customers arrive and will chat about the encyclopedia of baseball stats he’s committed to memory.

From here, Landis sees his employees going on to become productive employees at other businesses. “They weren’t able to hold a job 14 months ago, but now someone will come in and say, ‘We’ll pay you a buck more if you come work with us,’” he said.

Landis sees potential for the Howdy Homemade model nationwide and hopes his people-first approach to restaurants will continue to gain traction.

“The most important things in business that I’ve learned are to love your employees, to truly love them and see that love come back to you. Because an employee’s outlook on life truly permeates a business.”

Tom Landis, owner Howdy Homemade Ice Cream

Today, Landis encourages other businesses to “steal his idea.”

Landis also hopes his employees will start businesses of their own someday. To him, that would be the sweetest success.

Learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s connection to the Dallas-Fort Worth community.