On World Down Syndrome Day, Dallas Ice Cream Shop Touts Inclusion

Inside of Highland Park's Howdy Homemade, scoops of dozens of flavors of ice cream are served in cups and cones. But the restaurant's mission is about so much more than the sweet treats they scoop up, it's about the employees who make it all happen.

"When you hire people with special needs, you get an entirely different employee," said owner Tom Landis.

It's a lesson Landis has learned throughout the course of the three years Howdy's been in business.

After running a dozen or so other restaurants, he got the idea to open one that specifically hires people with disabilities after reading the story of former Alabama coach Gene Stalling's son, Johnny. Despite a famous dad, Johnny's Down Syndrome diagnosis made it nearly impossible to find someone willing to hire him.

U.S. labor statistics show that while the number of people with disabilities who are unemployed has declined over the last year, it's still at least double what it is for the rest of the population.

In North Texas, Landis says about 240,000 people with special needs graduate high school and have no job to move onto.

"Honestly, God put it on my heart and said you know what, mortgage your house and sale everything to do this," said Landis.

Three years later, he's hired 13 employees in his restaurant, more than 150 to help run his booth at the Texas State Fair and has seen his business turned into a franchise with a second location in Salt Lake City.

"Howdy Homemade is not about a feel good story. It's about people with special needs that just want a chance to prove themselves," said Landis.

He believes the restaurant industry is the best place to let them do that, and he hopes other North Texas businesses will do the same.

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