FOWLER: Doing well while doing good

Curt Fowler

“The saddest thing in life to see is potential in someone that’s never realized.” – Tom Landis, owner, Howdy Homemade Ice Cream

Tom Landis’ mom had polio but he says she never complained about anything. When Tom went into the restaurant industry, he decided he would hire as many disabled people he could.

Tom has always felt that the restaurant industry is about people first, then food. That belief has stood the test time. Tom has relied on that belief throughout his two decades in the restaurant industry and opening 13 restaurants. In an industry plagued by turnover, Tom still works with the first person he ever hired – Manuel Ramirez.

Tom was operating a chain of Texadelphia cheesesteak shops when he decided to open an ice cream shop in Dallas to focus on hiring people with special needs. Tom says the special-needs community is the solution to the turnover problem in the restaurant industry.

“I’ve seen them succeed beyond what people expected they’d be able to,” Tom told People magazine, “and the best thing is that a job that other people might not consider important is a life-changer for them.”

Landis opened Howdy Homemade in Dallas in 2015. A couple summers later, Chris and Heidi Nielson opened the first franchise location in Salt Lake City. Chris and Heidi have five children. Their son, Jack, is developmentally disabled. Jack now spends several hours a day working in the Salt Lake City store.

Howdy Homemade was born out of a vision to see and realize the potential of everyone. Their mission is to relentlessly pursue employment for individuals with special needs. Landis says that he was inspired to open Howdy Homemade by his mom’s illness, Gene Stalling’s book, “Another Season – A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son,” and the book of Proverbs.

Howdy Homemade’s signature ice cream is Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip – the world’s only ice cream officially blessed by the Texas-based soda maker. Landis says Dr. Pepper should have slapped him with a lawsuit, but the soda maker gave them the green light on the ice cream only four months after they opened. Tom now has the exclusive rights for Dr. Pepper ice cream.

Dr. Pepper is the sponsor of the Gene Stallings Coaches award and supporters of the My Possibilities program. My Possibilities is a nonprofit founded to provide people with cognitive disabilities the chance to continue their education. Landis is proud to work with Dr. Pepper saying that they have done more to help the special-needs community than any other corporation.

When Tom opened Howdy Homemade, he filled his 16 job openings with 14 people with special needs. Tom dreams of putting one of his ice cream shops in every state and says he can’t imagine doing business any other way.

“When somebody is in a loving environment where they are socially accepted, they will flourish and grow,” says Tom, “and that benefits everyone. It might take longer to train someone with a disability, but the payback is incredible. My employees are friendly and loyal and we have zero turnover. When they are given a chance, everybody wins.”

The next time you are in Dallas or Salt Lake City, make time to grab a treat at Howdy Homemade. If you want to be inspired, do an internet search for Howdy Homemade Ice Cream. The stories and videos are amazing. Also, go to to check out Heidi’s blog. Heidi is the co-owner of the Salt Lake City store. Once you start reading, it is difficult to stop. If you are interested in opening a franchise or hiring more people with special needs in your business, reach out to Tom at

Business can and should be the greatest tool for social good in the world. There are a lot of great people in this world utilizing capitalism to make the world a better place. Tom and the amazing team at Howdy Homemade are a great example for the rest of us.

If you’d like some great resources to help you on your entrepreneurial journey, you can find them on our resources page at or call me at (229) 244-1559.

Curt Fowler is president of Fowler & Company and director at Fowler, Holley, Rambo & Stalvey. He is dedicated to helping leaders create and achieve a compelling vision for their organizations. 

Curt is a syndicated business writer, keynote speaker and business advisor. He has an MBA in strategy and entrepreneurship from the Kellogg School, is a CPA, and a pretty good guy as defined by his wife and four children.

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