Howdy Homemade Ice Cream Has A Sweet Vision For Special Needs Employees

    lady handing waffle cone to customer
    Jackie Ramirez serves a customer at Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, a company that focuses on creating opportunities for teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to find meaningful employment and a positive place in the world. Photo by Shannon Arguello

    Heroes Scooping Happiness

    When it comes to business, Tom Landis has a special vision.

    His company, Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, is much more than a place to get a tasty treat. It’s pretty sweet what he’s done to create opportunities for teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to find meaningful employment and a positive place in the world.

    Howdy’s first store – scoop shops, they call them – opened the day after Christmas in 2015. Now, they have four, with the newest opening recently in Lubbock. Their ice cream is available locally at HEB and Brookshires Grocery Stores and at an ice cream shop at 12300 Inwood Rd., Suite 200 in Dallas. They also have scoop shops in Katy and Raleigh, N.C.

    “Our goal is give our Heroes (his name for his employees) the foundational tools so that they can pursue additional job opportunities. We know more will come their way as employers see what they are capable of,” Landis said. “The majority of our employees have an IDD with the main exception being our shop director who is responsible for hiring, training, and developing our Heroes.”

    The idea came to Landis after years as a franchise owner of pizza and sandwich restaurants. Upon hiring a young man with Down Syndrome, he realized how productive employees with special needs can.

    Then, he read the book “Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son” by the legendary football coach Gene Stallings. In it he shares the moving story about his life’s journey with his son Johnny.

    Putting A Social Mission First

    Landis’ inspiration led him to want to show how companies can be both compassionate and profitable by putting a social mission first.

    “Every day each Hero walks in to work with a huge smile on their face excited about serving amazing ice cream to our guests. They love what they do, and we love proving to people that they are all capable of more than what most people expect,” Landis said. “We have heroes that love to scoop ice cream, some that enjoy being on the register, a few who beg to help with catering events, and an incredibly dedicated ice cream production specialist who makes most of our ice cream for the shop.

    “Oh, and we typically have a Hero who’s focused on making fresh waffles each shift — they make the place smell so good! At this point, we have five shift leaders who are responsible for the shift and all of the opening and closing duties that must be done to our standards and expectations.”

    Landis’ approach is openly challenging other employers to look deeper into their hiring practices. He sees hiring special needs employees as a major plus.

    “I’m not sure that employers think there is risk, but more likely that they just don’t know how to go about it (hiring). There are differences in how people with IDDs learn and process information, but with some modifications to the training manuals coupled with creating a repetitive training program, they become excellent employees,” he said. “They’re excellent because they want to perform their job consistently and once, they get acclimated to the rhythm of the job responsibilities, are loyal beyond belief.

    Celebrating Their Mission

    “We’re making a difference every day. We’re proving that people with special needs are capable and valuable employees. We get emails every day from people across the country who are celebrating our mission to create jobs for people with special needs through the power of our smiles and amazing ice cream.”

    The pandemic put a hold on the company’s progress for a while, as it did with so many, but Landis said now that it seems to be in the mirror and the floodgates are opening wider each day.

    “We’re thankful for, and humbled by, all of the people who are supporting our mission,” he said.

    Four more Howdy Ice Cream scoop shops are scheduled to open before the end of the year in El Paso, Indianapolis, Denver and Cary, NC. Additionally, their ice cream can be found in 200 grocery stores across Texas, including H-E-B and Brookshire Brothers, and Landis said they are in discussions with two other retailers that will double that count.

    Untapped Abilities Initiative

    “We receive seven to 10 inquiries each week for franchising, and our retail business will grow three-fold this next year. We’re trying to grow at a manageable rate,” he said.

    Also, the company sets aside 25 cents per pint of ice cream sold sell through its retail partners. This “Untapped Abilities Initiative” fund is creating jobs for people in areas where they don’t yet have a franchise scoop shop.

    And while no scoop shop is currently owned by someone with special needs, Landis believes that day is coming – and he said when it does happen it will be a glorious moment in the company’s history.

    “We are really early in our franchise development, but we have no doubt that at some point soon we’ll be celebrating this accomplishment,” he said.

    Locally you can visit their store in Dallas or find Howdy ice cream in select H-E-B and Brookshire’s grocer stores. (12300 Inwood Rd., Suite 200, Dallas TX 75244 | (214) 484-1552)

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    Rick Mauch
    Rick Mauch is a veteran of more than four decades in the media. He began writing in high school and immediately went into broadcasting for almost a decade after graduating, working his way to morning drive in Birmingham, Alabama. However, realizing how much he missed writing (though he did continue to do some during his time in top-40 radio), Rick returned to what he loved and has been doing it ever since. Rick's career has spanned a plethora of media outlets, including community journalism, sports, entertainment, politics and more. He's worked in print, broadcast and online media. He also spent several years doing public relations for a children's home in East Texas - still writing on the side, of course. When he's not writing, Rick loves to play golf and do Bigfoot research. He's an avid believer. He also made his first hole-in-one in June of 2020. Rick is married to Junell Mauch. They have five children and three granddaughters