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Special Needs Employees Create a Special Atmosphere at Dallas' Howdy Ice Cream

By Elisha Neubauer

At Howdy Ice Cream, they have one solid belief: people are more important than the food. This belief reaches across both sides of the counter, with both employees and customers taking a primary focus in the operation of the shop.

"We focused on designing a restaurant around the employees, specifically employees with special needs such as autism or Down's syndrome," says Tom Landis, Owner of Howdy Ice Cream. "There are 240,000 adults with special needs that desperately would like a job. That number of qualified employees gave me the idea of harnessing that workforce to reduce the 300% turnover rate in the restaurant industry."

In a world where customer service has almost become extinct, finding employees who are truly happy to be employed is far and few between. But, given Howdy Ice Cream's unique hiring practices that's exactly what you find when you cross the threshold of this quaint ice cream parlor. "Today the restaurant industry suffers from poor customer service," states Landis. "We think we can reduce turnover and increase customer service with our employees, and they are proving it every day."

Landis knew what type of business model he wanted to pursue long before even knowing what type of product he would be serving. In fact, it was this business model that helped drive him into the ice cream industry in the first place. "Ice cream became the focus because it doesn't require boiling grease, hot ovens, and other dangerous areas of a kitchen," Landis tells us. "We only have one knife in the whole kitchen. It is a very safe environment."

The entire concept is based around the idea of making sure each employee has a fair chance at success- avoiding any unnecessary opportunity for failure. "Every aspect of Howdy Homemade, from the scooping to the cash register is designed for all of our employees to succeed," Landis tells us. "Fourteen of our 16 employees have special needs." This concept is relatively unheard of in the business world, let alone the restaurant industry.

"Howdy Homemade is different from other restaurants because we focus on our employees abilities rather than disabilities," he explains. "For example, we, and every restaurant, wants to be friendly. God made those with Down's syndrome to be some of the friendliest. And every restaurant wants culinary consistencies. No one delivers that better than those on the autism spectrum." He adds, "The employees are the difference at Howdy Homemade."

Of course, Howdy Homemade Ice Cream isn't just popular because of its employees- although they are a major part of the company's success. "We have some fun flavors also," Landis details. "By far our most popular is Dr. Pepper chocolate chip. Dr. Pepper has really been an amazing company - they bought us billboards!"

Although the company has been expanding and growing each and every day, taking massive leaps and strides since opening, Landis says they're not done yet. "Our goal is to get the ice cream into every grocery store in America and have the proceeds benefit programs to create more jobs for those with special needs."

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About The Author

Elisha Neubauer is a freelance editor, ghostwriter, book reviewer, and author. She is...

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