In this Special Fathers Network Podcast we’re saying Howdy to Tom Landis of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, in Dallas Texas. In addition to serving great ice cream, Howdy’s is staffed almost exclusively by people with special needs. We’ll meet some members of the Howdy Homemade team and maybe have a taste of some Howdy Homemade. That’s all in this Special Fathers Network Podcast.
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch. This is the Special Fathers Network podcast, stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom Couch. And today we’re saying howdy to Tom Landis of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Dallas, Texas.
David Hirsch: Where does the name Howdy come from?
Tom Landis: It’s just a word that is a little goofy. But it’s friendly word. In addition to serving great ice cream, Howdy’s is staffed almost exclusively by people with special needs. We wanted to create a very good ice cream shop that happens to employ people with special needs. But it’s gotta be good ice cream.
Tom Couch: David and Tom talk about the business, how it came to be, and how it’s helping so many people.
Tom Landis: This is a place where people with special needs can work.
Tom Couch: We’ll meet some members of the Howdy Homemade team and maybe have a taste of some Howdy’s Homemade.
David Hirsch: Here we are at Howdy Homemade, and you allowed me to taste test some of the flavors.
Tom Couch: It’s the Special Fathers Network podcast.
Tom Landis: Our goal is that our employees would eventually run and own Howdy Homemade restaurants.
Tom Couch: And here’s David Hirsch’s conversation with Tom Landis.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Tom Landis at Dallas, Texas. Tom is the founder of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream and Dreammakers, with locations in Dallas and Salt Lake City. Tom, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Landis: Thank you.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Margaret had been married for 16 years and are the proud parents of two children: Kate, age 8, and Jake, age 10. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Tom Landis: I was born in DC and then raised in Bethesda. I grew up in kind of a typical life. My mom had polio when she was just a child. We took public transportation a lot. She never really drove, but I never heard her complain once. I remember things like a guy trying to grab her purse as she was hopping on the bus in DC, and her just turning around and smacking that guy.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Tom Landis: Just going in and sitting down like, no big deal. She a hero.
David Hirsch: Strong role model. So would you call it a middle class or upper middle class upbringing?
Tom Landis: Middle class. I think it’s funny how very middle class you realize things are looking back on it.
David Hirsch: Okay. How would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Tom Landis: I think one of a real respect, and a little bit of fear, but he definitely has my respect.
David Hirsch: What did your dad do occupationally?
Tom Landis: He was a banker.
David Hirsch: Any lessons that you learned? Any: this is one thing that my dad taught me by telling me what to do or more by just the role model that he was?
Tom Landis: I think sacrifice. I remember some different vacations and things where he would drive us five hours down to a little cabin or something, and then he drove five hours back. And then after a week, come back for us. And I know that wasn’t what he wanted to do, but he sacrificed a lot for us.
David Hirsch: Okay. You said us—do you have siblings?
Tom Landis: I have a sister.
David Hirsch: So is your sister older or younger?
Tom Landis: Younger. She’s a hero also. She’s an ER nurse. It’s crazy what her work emergencies are versus mine. I spill ice cream. She saves lives.
David Hirsch: Everybody has a different following, Tom. Is she local or where is she?
Tom Landis: She’s up in Maine.
David Hirsch: Were there other father figures, growing up, in your life?
Tom Landis: Yeah, I’d say the greatest one is Dr. Haney, who’s a pastor down in Austin, Texas. Just his authenticity and ability to truly love people without judgment. It’s something I aspire to, yet don’t seem to quite be able to attain all the time.
David Hirsch: So how’d you meet him?
Tom Landis: He had come into one of my restaurants. Honestly, he’d come in so many times. He came in one time and said, “Look, I think I’ve spent twelve hundred bucks in the last month in your place.
And I said, “All right, you’ve come to mine. I need to go check out your place. What are you doing?” I think I may have even put in some colorful language. And he said, Well, I’m a pastor.” “Oh, well, all right. I’ll check out church.” And the funny thing was, I thought, “All right, I’ll put a suit on.” I never wear a suit. “But that way I won’t stick out.” And I go to that church that day, and he and I are the only ones in a suit. But he’s an amazing man that truly has taught me a lot about leadership.
David Hirsch: And you still in contact with him?
Tom Landis: Oh, yeah.
David Hirsch: So what role has spirituality played in your life as a youth, and then now as an adult?
Tom Landis: Oh, I think honestly, everything. Everything from having my last drink when I gave my life to Jesus. When I lean on him and study the Bible, life becomes a lot more clear. When I focus on myself, everything gets kinda messed up.
David Hirsch: So what was the turning point?
Tom Landis: I think it was two things. I think it was, one, Dr. Haney just taking time to not hit me over the head with the Bible but just understand where I was. And then also, I think, hitting some rock bottoms along the way and getting smacked around and realizing I’m not in control. Control is an illusion.
David Hirsch: Control is an illusion. I’m going to make a note of that, because I think that that is a very profound statement. So, as a little further background, I recollect from our prior conversations that you grew up in Maryland, you went to high school in Bethesda, and you went to school at University of Texas Austin. And you took a degree in journalism. So when you were leaving college, what was it you thought you’re going to do?
Tom Landis: Well, that was a really tough time. I knew that four days after graduating I was going to have to have my whole back redone, have all but three of my vertebrae fused together because of scoliosis. I kind of went from the life of college—which I wasn’t super focused on the academics, just pure fellowship—and then to go into a real isolation of recovery from back surgery that took months.
Through that I started to regain strength and that desire of, “Hey, I’m going to make something of myself.” I landed a job in Dallas, and in 1992 that was pretty tricky. Got a job in marketing, and worked for somebody else from March 2nd 1992 to October 31st.
Then I decided I need to go out on my own, and I went out on my own. Did real well with the World Cup in ‘94, and then wanted to get into the restaurant business. So in 1996 we opened our first one.
David Hirsch: So where did that start? Or how did that start?
Tom Landis: It started with having some success, some confidence, some money. But also being able to take a risk, right? We’re 23, 24 years old, 25. We have no mortgage, no marriage, no kids and a ton of energy. And I think that’s kind of what it took. The ability to work 18 hours a day for a year and a half, to the ability to risk it all. And when I risked it all on Howdy with a wife and two young kids, it felt very, very different than when we were doing it at age 25.
David Hirsch: So tell me something about those businesses. What were they?
Tom Landis: So we’d opened Texadelphia Sandwich shops. They were out of Austin. They were everybody’s favorite restaurant in Austin back in the day. And we ended up opening seven of those in Dallas. And then we got in the pizza business and opened six pizza places, and proved very clearly that expansion beyond your abilities does not result in success.
David Hirsch: So you’re growing fast and then reached a plateau or reached the limits.
Tom Landis: I just made all the common mistakes you can make. It stinks. You want to make mistakes no one else’s made, but when you make the common ones, it’s frustrating. But I stayed in it for about 22 years. But just in last three weeks, I’ve sold everything to focus a hundred percent on Howdy Homemade.
David Hirsch: Okay. So, I’ve been meaning to ask, where did this idea for Howdy Homemade Ice Cream come from? Where did the name come from, for that matter?
Tom Landis: Yeah, I really say the godfather of special needs in Texas is coach Gene Stallings, the legendary Gene Stallings. He played football at A&M. He coached at A&M, and beat the legendary Bear Bryant in the ‘68 Cotton Bowl. He won a national championship at Alabama, and he coached under the legendary Tom Landry. Also, he wrote a book called Another Season, and it was about the birth of his son Johnny and his son Johnny’s life.
And it just fascinated me. Because I’d say 35% of that book was that they’re concerned that Johnny would never have a job. From everything in the book and everything you ever knew about Johnny, he would simply be the greatest in the restaurant. He would greet everybody. He would be friendly. He is the embodiment of hospitality. And yet no one would hire him in this book. Finally the University of Alabama did.
And then you start looking at, okay, perhaps kind of similar to you when you look internally as to how do I be a better dad? You look externally too. What are some of the stats? What is this trend that’s going on? And when you look and see that millions of adults with special needs that no one’s going to hire, or those on the autism spectrum that are underemployed or unemployed, it truly is an incredible business opportunity.
And then at the same time, it’s a mission opportunity, an ability to really help people. There’s a quote from Dylan that says, “If I had thought about it, I never would have done it. I guess I should have let it slide. But I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by the forces of insanity. Y’all look a little burned out, my friends. I thought it might be up to me.”
David Hirsch: Wow. I love that.
Tom Landis: I don’t know why I think of that. And you know maybe it’s this. It’s like sitting around a campfire with a whole bunch of people with kids with special needs. And everyone’s saying, “Man, we gotta do something. We gotta do something.”
And finally one guy at the campfire stands up and throws his hat in fire, or something, and says, “All right, man, you know what? Tomorrow I’m going to risk it all. Let’s do it. Let’s truly mortgage the house.”
The Bible says our house is but a tent, but everyone tells us the house is this sacred thing. No, let’s truly mortgage everything we have, and try and open Howdy Homemade, so that when I can look in Gene Stallings’ eyes, or any parent and family special needs, I can look them in the eye with all seriousness and say, “Guess what? I believe in your kid enough to put my money on it.”
And after two and a half years, we’ve done it. We’ve proven it. Salt Lake’s proven it. Now we’re going to take it out and show it to the whole world. And I truly think we can revolutionize the restaurant industry.
David Hirsch: Gene Stallings. Did you ever meet him?
Tom Landis: I’ve met him a couple of times. I’m actually going down June 14th. We’re going to have a Bible study by his son’s grave. And the guy, yeah, I’ve got a man crush on him.
David Hirsch: Sounds like somebody I need to meet.
Tom Landis: I’ve yet to meet someone in Texas with special needs that hasn’t been impacted by him. Either a personal letter, a phone call, or at an event where they’ve met. I mean, there aren’t many people like him. And you know what? It’s fascinating in that book, when he was born, June 2, 1962, they were very honest—and I love the authenticity of it—but Gene Stallings wanted a football guy.
And when they brought Johnny out, the doctor said, “You have a Mongoloid,” which is the scientific term for why he died, that was a term back then, Stallings fainted. When he came to, he said he wanted to knock the doctor out.
But what’s interesting is the doctor said, “Look, we will take this child and put him in a hospital, an institution, because you’re doing what’s important in life. You’re coaching football. This isn’t important. He’s like, “God gave you that child. That’s my child.” But back then, that was not the norm. I mean, the reality was a lot different.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s a very powerful. Thank you for sharing that. And I hope that there will be an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the Stallings family experience, and if it’s meant to be, God willing, I will have a chance to meet him as well. So back to Howdy’s. Where does the name Howdy’s come from?
Tom Landis: So, it’s a tribute to Stallings and his Alma mater, A&M, where everyone says, “Howdy.” There’s a whole Howdy Week the first week of the school. It’s hard to say the word with a frown on your face. Right? It’s a little goofy, but it’s a friendly word. And I think in this day and age and the tension in the United States, we could use a little Howdy.
David Hirsch: I love it. So what are some of the bigger challenges that you’ve encountered building this business? It’s what—two, three years old now?
Tom Landis: Yeah. You know what, up until a couple of weeks ago and just being ridiculously, under-capitalized, basically, you come to learn that you don’t really have to pay bills until they turn pink, when they start calling or whatever. But we truly pushed it to the edge of all the cards collapsing. I wish we hadn’t done that, but it’s the way it went.
Then also I think the challenge is some of the naiveness that I’ve come in with. And I think in some of it, you just gotta go and do it. And you’re going to make mistakes. But I think the biggest mistake is thinking that people with differences or people with special needs don’t have issues or emotions or problems. And I’ve got more of them than anybody.
But if we wanted to create a very good ice cream shop that happens to employ people with special needs, it’s gotta be good ice cream. It’s gotta be better everything. You’ve gotta be cleaner, everything. And that our ice cream is really of a strong quality. I think that’s been a little bit of a challenge, when people are kind of thinking that we’re going to give them vanilla or soft serve or something. And, I think we have something that, once they do try it, they’re convinced.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So the business has been around for a couple, three years. What was your vision when you first created this?
Tom Landis: You know what? Very much it’s “Hey, this will either be a home run or it will be shut down.” Either they want it, or we won’t make it. The idea a couple of years ago, talking to people, “Hey, I want to open the restaurant.” “Okay, that’s risky.” Yeah. “No bank wants it.” Okay. “But I only want to hire people with special needs.” If we’re honest, the number of people—if it was a one-on-one—they might laugh or hit me in the shoulder and be like, “Oh, that’s funny,” or something.
And then when they realize there’s not a smile on my face, there’s that odd, awkward, trying to backtrack or whatever. But one beautiful family really stepped up and loaned me $25,000, and another bank, a guy at the a bank, loaned us $25,000. But it’s funny then, because that same bank, which has been phenomenal, came back and used us in a giant ad campaign.
And then honestly, I think some of the challenges of both the parents and some of the special needs community themselves said, “Hey, we can do this.” Because they were very protective, as I would be with my own kids—and they don’t have special needs. To give them that dignity to fail, to push their limits, to push an employee who can drive to say, “Hey, I need you to go to a Home Depot and get me a screwdriver, and I’ll pay you on the clock to go do it, plus double what the screwdriver costs.” And him to say, “No, my mom wouldn’t let me drive except for this normal route.”
And then to talk to the mom and say, “Hey, I’m not doing this because it’s saving me time. Believing me, it’s not saving me time. I’m doing it because I want to expand his limits, push his limits.” “Oh, okay.” And next day he shows up just as proud as a peacock, because he’s got something that he’s done. And I’m sure it stressed him out to do it, but it stretched his limits.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So how many employees do you have?
Tom Landis: 16.
David Hirsch: And how many of them have special needs?
Tom Landis: 14.
David Hirsch: So there’s two typical employees and 14 with special abilities. How’d you come to that ratio?
Tom Landis: We’ve got a pretty efficient labor schedule now, but at the start we kind of said, “All right, we’re going to take whoever God brings in our doors.” We want to work with them and give them a chance. And some are going to succeed, and some aren’t. Some just aren’t maybe made for it.
What’s amazing is almost all do and love it and don’t want an end to their shift. But it works out. How many do we need here during the day to make ice cream, at night when it gets busy, on weekends? But then also on top of that, we have different private schools for those with special needs that will bring in their kids a couple of times a week, a group, and they’ll do different areas of training or cleaning and things like that.
It’s what I love about Coach Stallings and Coach Bear Bryant, in studying them, is they were tough. And one of my employees’ brother said it the best, because I asked him, “Am I too tough on my guys?” Cause I say, “Hey, clean the trash can, clean the toilet, clean stuff.” Because that’s where they’re going to be starting other places. And I want them to grow here so they can lead forward at other places. But I asked him, “Am I too tough on my employees?” And he said, “You can never be as tough on your employees as the world will be on them.”
David Hirsch: It’s a great revelation. So do you see this as more of a stepping stone? Somebody gets a job at Howdy’s, they work here for six months or a year or whatever period of time, and they’re better prepared to get a different type of job or another job?
Tom Landis: Yeah. Although I think, in perhaps a more capitalistic fashion, our goal is that our employees would eventually run and own Howdy Homemade restaurants, and that they would stay within the system, and we would grow. We’ve got just, I don’t know, 70, 75 people that are ready to franchise.
We’ve got all sorts of people that want distribution on our product. And we’ve got the state fair coming up. We are ready to grow. And arguably it’s the biggest problem and impediment to our growth right now is me and level of, I think, experience that we need in different areas. Operations franchising is not my area.
David Hirsch: So what’s your hope or vision for Howdy’s five, ten, twenty years from now?
Tom Landis: Our goal is that we would be in all 160 countries that host the Special Olympics. That we would be in China. Where the rate of autism in America is now an astounding one in 67, in China it’s even bigger. All around the country there’s this exploding growth of autism. We would be just a beacon of hope for people that, “Hey, this is a place where people special needs can work.”
David Hirsch: Well, these are real jobs, real wages and real accountability. It’s not what I think of as a bagger job, with all due respect to the bagger job at the local food store.
So I remember you telling me in a previous conversation that your second location, the one in Salt Lake City, has gotten a lot of notoriety. What was that about?
Tom Landis: They’ve just really been fantastic, a great family. And I think it all goes back to this. It would be offensive for me to think that my passion and enthusiasm will ever match that of the families that have a child with special needs. But then also they know so many people for work, for employees…they’re on a mission.
And I think what they’ve seen too is like you said, their son Jack has just seen tremendous difference. University of Utah’s business school named them one of the best new businesses in 2018 last Thursday. And then on that same day, in the evening, they were voted best ice cream in all of Utah.
Which is, I think, just fascinating. Because it’s not best ice cream among special needs. This is, “Hey, put us in that beautiful arena and give me employees that I want, which are those with autism, those with Down syndrome, and we will win.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So how did the Utah location, the Salt Lake City location, come about?
Tom Landis: Well it’s more and more through social media. It’s just, “Hey, someone with a special needs child in Dallas has a relative in Salt Lake, and that’s how we’re starting to get the inquiries coming in from all around the country, for that. And they flew down one weekend, I think, and talked. They flew down another week and trained. But it’s very simple.
David Hirsch: It’s not rocket science. It’s not open heart surgery. So what’s the family’s name in Salt Lake?
Tom Landis: It’s the Neilson family.
David Hirsch: So the Nielsens, the parents, have a son named Jack, and they were the ones that were inspired by what’s going on here in Dallas so much so that they came in, visited a couple times, site visit, training, and said, “Okay, we’ve got enough. Let’s see if we can replicate this.” So when did that start? When did the Salt Lake store open?
Tom Landis: They opened Labor Day. I mean, they’re brand new. They haven’t even had their first summer. And it’s kind of those things where your business plan is steps one, two, three and four. And we start like at four, five. And, I mean, basically they called up and they said, “Well, we had a good conversation. We’ve signed a lease. We’re going to open Labor Day.” This was in like May. Nobody opens a restaurant on time. Like we even got wristbands that say opening Labor Day weekend. That’ll really help.
But they’re way more advanced in business than I am. They opened Labor Day. I couldn’t be more proud of them, and just the lives they’re changing up there is just cool.
David Hirsch: So I remember you telling me a story when we talked last about “Baseball Benjamin.” What was that about?
Tom Landis: Again, some of our employees are just super talented. It’s just phenomenal to see his ability to understand and then contextualize and then communicate sports, specifically baseball stats, is just phenomenal. We see it every Friday and Saturday night when he works here. The customers come in, I mean, they are dumbfounded.
The Rangers record is up to this point 10 and 17. They’re 22nd in major league baseball and earned run average at .465, 29th in batting average against at .275, and they pull out the most hits, 259.
I think Harry Caray had a unique voice. Bob Dylan had a unique voice. Benjamin has a very distinct voice, very recognizable on the autism spectrum. But I absolutely believe he’ll be major league baseball’s first announcer on the autism spectrum. And when he does it, it just will electrify a fan base. Maybe it partially exists, but there’s a premonition that that will happen.
David Hirsch: So Benjamin is just one of your 14 employees?
Tom Landis: Yeah. And also a guy came that truly in many ways was not ready to work. Right. Wouldn’t make much eye contact. I mean, just seeing how much he’s come along is the greatest thing.
There’s times when we do these one minute videos of him recording his statistical knowledge of an upcoming game or something, and we’ll catch him laughing or something. “Dude, where did your autism go? I don’t see it.”
The Rangers offense hasn’t totally been able to make up for it. They’ve scored 100 runs and had 26 home runs, but they only have the .234 batting average.
But there’s also the beautiful moments of everything being so literal, and his mom coming in and sister coming in one afternoon, and he’s in the kitchen. I’ll go in the kitchen and get him and say, “Hey, there’s some customers causing a real problem in the dining room.” He’ll come out and look his mom right in the eye and say, “Why are you causing so much trouble?”
David Hirsch: With a serious face?
Tom Landis: But you know what? You take the other side of that too. And man, his focus, his work ethic, I mean, it is absolutely phenomenal. The first time he closed up the shop, he calls up about 15 minutes afterwards. “Mr. Landis, we have problem. Money’s missing.” “Tell me about it.” “I’ve counted. I’ve recounted. I’ve counted several times. I’ve checked everywhere. We’re off by two cents.”
This is a cash industry where so much stuff walks off. It’s just not in their DNA to try and steal. That’s a blanket statement. But from my employees, it’s just intense sense of honesty. And sometimes it’s honesty on, “Boy, Mr. Landis, today sure was slow. No one came in. I don’t think you’re going to stay in business.” Well, it’s 12, and we open in a half an hour or so.
David Hirsch: Yeah. You don’t want to take things literally. Oh, that’s wonderful. Are there any other employees that come to mind with a special story? Maybe a parent’s perspective on what this means to their son or daughter?
Tom Landis: Truly every single employee that we have had is amazing, and their parents too. And I would say this because I’ve never seen a greater sense of hope than among those parents with special needs.
Perhaps at the top of that mountain is a guy named Bill Alpers that I’ve gotten to know. And I received the Ryan Alpers lifetime achievement award. Ryan Alpers was a great kid, on a Young Life ski trip in Colorado. He hit a tree. He’s basically been in a comatose state for 12 years. And for 12 years, his dad has had three people watching him 24-7. And for 12 years, I’ve watched as his dad has tried to do one thing and that’s communicate to his son that he loves him.
And I think for 12 years, he’s tried to figure out every single medical way possible all around the world, when the rest of the world has given up, to just get some sort of way to maybe find out from his son, that his son knows and his son loves him.
Last year I was talking to his mom, and I mentioned something about Ryan, and the next year, and what are you thinking about for next year? And she said, “Next year is the year.” And in my mind, I’m kind of wondering, what does that mean? Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is that the end? I don’t know. My mind was almost not being positive and she said, “Oh, see, here he is going to speak.”
And man, hen you meet people that have a level or a sense of hope, that is so foreign to you, it reinvigorates you and makes you just know what matters. One of my favorite quotes is, “A man can live without food for about 48 days, without water for about three days, without air for eight minutes, without hope for about one second.” And I thought that’s pretty good.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s very powerful.
I am [?]. I am from Howdy Homemade. My favorite thing to do here is to serve the ice cream and talk to the customers.
All of Howdy’s Homemade ice cream made on premises every day. We use the freshest, purest ingredients we can find. Dr. Pepper chocolate chip is our signature flavor, and we hope to have it in grocery stores all across the nation.
If this doesn’t take you back to those hot summer nights, swimming pools, riding your bike at eight years old, then nothing would. Thanks for stopping by Howdy Homemade. We have a relentless pursuit to create jobs for everyone, one scoop at a time with our homemade ice cream.
David Hirsch: So here we are at Howdy’s Homemade, and you allowed me to taste test some of the flavors. And the one that caught my attention from a distance is the Dr. Pepper chocolate chip ice cream. How did that relationship start?
Tom Landis: We really had fun creating that. And it was in fact one of the creations when early on, I would take ice cream to different group homes for those with special needs, just to have them sample it. I would ask them what would be their flavors, and everything would be thrown out, from gummy bears, to bananas, to avocados, to someone said Dr. Pepper and someone said ice cream.
I said, “Hey, let’s give that a try.” Once we created it, the first thing I did really was turn the recipe over to them. Because for me, it’s not about the money. It’s about, “Hey, can we do something that will launch a product like no launch has ever been done before, to provide them with an army of supporters no product’s ever seen before, and use it to truly change lives?”
That’s what it’s about. And if I can be a part of it, cool. If they want to take it and run with it, and they can do it, more power to them. I think what they’ve seen at first is, “Hey, this is a very fascinating use of our core product. This is a great new, different path.” Dr. Pepper is there with a mint chocolate chip. There’s something there that is bigger than Texas.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So you’ve actually had some interaction with the people from Dr. Pepper.
Tom Landis: Oh, a lot. We have an exclusive agreement to make their ice cream now. And I mean, I think about that. Like, I like to stick it to the man. I’m not a big fan of big companies. I don’t know why—that’s not fair. It’s unjust. Yet Dr. Pepper has been without a doubt a phenomenal company. Every single person I’ve worked with, they’re just phenomenal in their support of Howdy. They pay for most of the equipment here.
We’re going to see later this summer billboards, bus routes. I think they’re starting to see that this has been a two and a half year focus group, 80% of the people buy vanilla chocolate strawberry. Here it’s like 66% are choosing Dr. Pepper. That’s astounding numbers and it says there’s something there. People are saying, “I don’t drink soda anymore, but I love ice cream.” There’s something there. I truly see our ice cream eventually being in, at a minimum, 2000 to 38,000 retail outlets that Dr. Pepper’s currently in.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. Well, as somebody who loves Dr. Pepper, I’m hoping that this is a catalyst for great things to come. So from an advice standpoint, what are some of the more important takeaways that come to mind when hiring those with differences? What advice can you offer?
Tom Landis: You know what, I love that question. Because I feel sometimes like it’s worthless if I go give a speech to a group, and nobody asks that question, or nobody says, “Hey, how could I hire someone?” Because if we’re honest, most people’s first response is, “I don’t have a spot for them in my business.”
And so my question to those who are in a leadership role, who have a position of power, who do hire, is, “Ask your employees: what is the thing that they like least about their job?” And the common denominator to the answer will be repetition. And it’s usually repetition along the most menial part of that professional’s job.
And so now if that’s something, what if you say, “Okay, that’s the menial part, you hate doing it, but you got to do it. How do we get in someone with special needs to do that? You’re saving your business money. You’re making the life of your worker or your employee happier, because they’re not having to do the menial stuff.” And I think Walgreens has benefited perhaps more than any other company with that.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. So for other employers who might be considering hiring those with differences, what advice is there that you’d give?
Tom Landis: To do it. To not be afraid to interview people and say, “Oh, this one just doesn’t feel right.” Malcolm Gladwell in Blink says that the first ten seconds is determined to hired. And I think that’s why people perhaps on the autism spectrum don’t get hired, as they’re not making eye contact and smiling in that first ten seconds. The interview process is going to be rough.
But as been proven over and over again, the best interviewees are often the worst workers, right? They’re just slick. They’ve gone through the process a lot of times. You don’t want a guy that’s coming through the process a lot of times. I had a potential employee. He showed up in [?] outfit and I loved it. I kind of thought, man, that might be perfect.
And the questions that the parents might be, they’re all the things that you truly would turn around and tell an HR person, “Oh, they brought their parents,” whatever. It’s interesting, but sometimes you can interview the parents, and you’ll know what you’re getting.
And then another one, and this one is really deep in my heart—I haven’t executed it, and I want to do it—I want the dads, not the moms. I want the dads working in here. I don’t care how rich successful you are or whatever, but what if you’re kind of there on the sideline and most of your kid’s football games for your neuro-typical kid, man, to be in here, show him that this is the coolest, greatest thing in the world.
Because you know what? All those kids playing football in high school, none of them are going to make a living off of it. Hey, let’s start now. This is your future. And it’s not sitting here, but like for some of these guys, I think you can truly own this. People can walk the money to the bank across the street. You can order the food. But it’s going to take the parents’ involvement and it’s going to take a village to get it going. And that’s one of the key things.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So speaking of parents, what advice can you share with dads, or parents for that matter, about helping a child with disabilities reach their full potential or be prepared to come to work at Howdy’s or someplace else?
Tom Landis: In some ways I am hesitant to answer it, because I think that they already know way more than me, but maybe just as an outsider, is that, man, no excuses, tough love. Because also here, there just is an environment of love and of also we see bigger things. It’s so fun when you give him a key. You gave him a key, it’s bigger than when you give him their first paycheck. When you give them their first paycheck, they’re on the moon. But that key just is it.
And I’ll tell you another one that just is phenomenal, is when you tell some of these guys, and they might be in their twenties, thirties, “Hey, I need you. Tomorrow someone’s called in sick. I need you.” At first a lot of times they do not know how to respond to that. Because they’ve truly never really been in a position where they’ve needed. Like, “There’s a fire and I believe in you, so you go put it out.” And then, “Well, I can’t do that. I don’t know. That’s not on my schedule.” And a lot of times I’m talking to parents beforehand, you know, because they’re smart enough. “Ah, my parents will let me,” or whatever. Well, no, we kind of check that box off.
But man, when they come in and then at the end of that shift, the last customer, and you say, “How you doing?” And they’ll say, “Today I was gonna stay home on my day off, but I had to come in for work. I was needed.” And I mean, the buttons are popping off their shirt, right? Because there’s a huge difference between being wanted, which is beautiful—but being needed, right?
David Hirsch: That’s a great differentiator, wanted versus needed. I love it. So why is it that you’ve agreed to be part of the Special Fathers Network?
Tom Landis: The first soccer team I ever coached my son on, it was my son and ten kids who were employees’ kids from one of my restaurants. Because I knew that most of their dads were working either two or three jobs. Or maybe were in another country, in Mexico, or maybe in a prison in Mexico. They didn’t have a father figure. And I wanted to provide a little bit of that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s wonderful. So if somebody wants information on Howdy Homemade or wants to contact you, what would you suggest?
Tom Landis: Send lots of money. No. You know what, our website has some contact information. And then our Facebook page is much more active. And I love to hear from people. So it’s www.howdyhomemade.com or email@example.com.
David Hirsch: Okay. Tom, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Tom is just one of the dads who agreed to support the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thanks again, Tom.
Tom Landis: Thank you.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to this Special Fathers Network Podcast, stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio. Again, to find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stcenturydads.org.