Tom Landis, owner of Howdy Homemade and two Texadelphia restaurants, is known for being good to his employees, for focusing on people and for helping them realize their untapped potential.
His most recent effort has provided jobs for 14 special needs adults, giving them an opportunity that might not have come otherwise.
But that’s nothing new for Landis.
The first person he ever hired, Manuel Ramirez, still works for him. In the late ’90s, Landis recognized that his Spanish-speaking employees, despite being loyal and hard-working, were held back by their inability to speak English.
It seemed only logical for Landis to begin offering English classes at his restaurant. In late 2015, he took a step in helping another group of people. Howdy Homemade, an ice cream parlor and restaurant on Lover’s Lane, is staffed by folks with special needs.
The idea partly was an inspiration by Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son, written by former University of Alabama football coach Gene Stallings about his son, who was born with Down syndrome.
But the idea wasn’t borne out of good will alone: Landis recognized potential.
When he spent time at a group home where about 25 to 30 special-needs adults lived, he was impressed at how efficiently they prepared their meals.
“They planned, cooked, and cleaned up – that’s a restaurant,” Landis says. “But most of the people there had never had a job. No one was going to hire them.”
Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent years. In 1960, a person born with Down could expect to live for fewer than 10 years.
Now, folks with Down syndrome can expect to live well into adulthood, but after public school, they don’t receive many opportunities to contribute. Few employers are willing to give them a chance.
Currently, Landis employs 14 adults with special needs, but that leaves thousands across the DFW area who still need jobs. He seeks to help normalize the idea that people with special needs can be hired – and that hiring them is a smart business decision. Business makes sense,” Landis says. “I’m trying to make money. You need to hire them because they’re going to make you more money and you’re going to do less work. I absolutely believe that’s the case, and special needs families know it’s true, too.”
When Landis approached investors with his concept for Howdy Homemade, they didn’t take him seriously – at first.
But Landis notes that, after thinking about it, people often reach the same conclusion: everyone knows a special-needs person who works somewhere, bagging your groceries or busing tables at a local restaurant. That person does a great job. They’re always smiling, friendly, and helpful.
“In the end, businesses are opportunistic, and if something makes sense, they’ll do it,” Landis says. “There’s definitely some issues and obstacles; it takes time and patience in training. But wait that through and you’ve got a lifetime employee who does a phenomenal job.”
“In the end, businesses are opportunistic, and if something makes sense, they’ll do it,” Tom Landis says.
Howdy Homemade also has attracted attention for its smooth, delicious flavors – including its signature Dr Pepper Chocolate Chip ice cream.
Landis plans to take his flavors to the State Fair of Texas, and hopes to soon begin “aggressively” franchising – which, depending on growth, will lead to more employment opportunities for special-needs people all across the country.
As for his employees, Landis can’t say enough good things about them, stressing that all he’s done is given them the opportunity to succeed. He also notes that the presence of a special-needs employee positively affects his other employees, too. They change people’s perspectives.
“There’s no better group of people for customer service. They don’t have ego. They have genuine love,” Landis said. “Restaurants are a business and an industry that has truly forgotten that it’s about people first, then food. If you put people first, you put your employees first, everything else will work out.”
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