The Sweet Spot: One Dallas Ice Cream Shop Also Serves Its Employees
Howdy Homemade’s hiring goals are making a unique impact.
Tom believes in the potential of young people with special needs. He knows that, if given the chance, they’re capable of developing employable skills and serious confidence.
Tom threw his heart and years of experience as an entrepreneur into opening Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in North Dallas.
Fourteen special needs employees now work at Howdy Homemade—scooping ice cream, connecting with the community and proving something to themselves and the world.
Every employee has a favorite task, like running the cash register. But what they’re really learning is how to run a business.
Howdy Homemade is also providing an alternative to “the cliff,” a time when kids with special needs finish school but have no clear path forward.
Tom’s greatest hope is for others to “steal his idea.” And larger companies are doing just that, providing vital support and partnerships.
Everyone is inspired by the team at Howdy Homemade: moms and dads, sisters and brothers, other kids with special needs and potential employers.
The ice cream is pretty amazing, too.
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.