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Entrepreneur opens ice cream shop so he can hire special needs workers

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“There are 240,000 adults with special needs (in North Texas) who are desperately praying for what you and I take for granted: a job,” Landis explains.

Posted: Mar. 6, 2018 8:02 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas (KTVT-TV) -- At Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in University Park, sweet treats are served with a smile.

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From Cookie Monster to Hot Tamale to Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip, the innovative flavors are all made in house.

Restauranteur Tom Landis opened the business on Lover’s Lane, specifically to provide jobs for people with special needs.

“There are 240,000 adults with special needs (in North Texas) who are desperately praying for what you and I take for granted: a job,” Landis explains.

There are no handouts here. This is not a charity. Employees are trained in everything from food preparation and customer service, to point-of-sale.

“It’s time we broaden our base and look not at where the disabilities are, but the abilities,” Landis says.

Kalin O’Brien worked his way up to be the store’s assistant manager. He used to work in a hospital cafeteria, mostly wiping down tables, he says, adding Howdy Homemade was a chance to move on to something greater.

Landis saw in him, what other employers might have overlooked.

“Tom was willing enough to see that I could probably work here. He thinks I’m dependable enough to be onsite early in the morning,” O’Brien says.

Landis has opened 13 restaurants in his career, and first hired employees with special needs at one of his Texadelphia restaurants.

“Maybe God created those with Down syndrome to be more friendly than your neurotypical. Every restaurant wants culinary consistency, whether it’s low end or high end. No one better for that than those on the Autism spectrum,” Landis says.

But he sees an ice cream shop like Howdy Homemade as the kind of business an employee could one day own.

“I want to be an entrepreneur and go into philanthropy,” says Howdy Homemade employee Chris Creixell, who has worked here for one year.

“I like to see the smiles on little kids and their parents,” says Lindsey Riddel, who found her first job at Howdy Homemade.

“I want to be be a manager,and see if I can help other people.” O’Brien says.

Tom Landis believes the way to make social change is to shift the focus and show the rest of the restaurant industry where they’re missing out.

In two and a half years, Howdy Homemade has had zero turnover in employees, and consistently receives top marks in customer reviews for service. Those are two areas where many restaurants struggle.

“Awesome. Incredible. They can’t wait to help you. They’re as happy as you are,” says customer K.K. Atkinson, of her experience at the store.

“We can look at the CFOs and the accountants and say, our employees are truly worth more than yours,” Landis says.

It’s part of the Howdy Homemade philosophy: people first. Then, food.

In less than three years since opening in University Park, Howdy Homemade has a franchise in Salt Lake City. Landis says he has a long list of people waiting to expand with even more stores.

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Steve Finksfink@cbs.com443-421-2459

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