A Dallas businessman has started his own ice cream franchise to give meaningful employment opportunities to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Tom Landis created the Howdy Homemade Ice Cream located in Salt Lake City, and out of its 16 staff members, 14 have special needs.
Landis, 48, also operates a chain of Texadelphia cheesesteak sandwich shops, but decided to open an ice cream parlor in Dallas two years ago. He always had the idea to staff an entire establishment with employees with disabilities because his mother had suffered from polio.
Through his previous experience in the restaurant industry, he also knew special needs are hardworking and reliable people.
"I've seen them succeed beyond what people expected they’d be able to," Landis told PEOPLE. "and probably the best thing is that a job other people might not consider important is a life-changer for them."
"If nobody will hire you and you have nothing to do all day, then you end up watching TV all the time," he added. "and that's a shame. We need to get over some of these social stigmas about people with special needs. They have more to offer than people realize."
One of the employees is 21-year-old Jack Nielson, a young man who is developmentally disabled. While Jack is non-verbal, he has various duties while on the clock, including scooping ice cream, washing dishes, and emptying garbage cans.
Jack's parents, Chris and Heidi Nielson, store opened the first franchise store last summer when nobody had wanted to give their son a job.
"It's clear that he loves his job and he loves Tom," Heidi told PEOPLE. "As a mother of a child with special needs, it was easy for me to want to sacrifice my time and effort in opening a Howdy store. What’s amazing to me is that Tom - who doesn't have a child with special needs - would do the same."
Landis said while Dallas has a large turnover rate in the restaurant industry, there are several qualified people who are never given the opportunity to work.
"So many of my employees have been overlooked and underestimated their entire lives," Landis said. "And that’s unacceptable. I wish that I could hire them all."
Landis hopes to eventually open a Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in every state, all with a similar, hardworking staff.
"When somebody is put into a loving environment where they are socially accepted, they will flourish and grow," he said. "And that benefits everyone. It might take longer to train somebody with a disability, but the payback is incredible. My employees are friendly and loyal and we have a zero turnover rate. When they’re given a chance, everybody wins."
Would you like to have dessert at Howdy Homemade Ice Cream?