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The City Journals

How ice cream helps melt down limitations

Mar 09, 2018 12:24PM ● By Natalie Mollinet

Patrick, one of the Howdy Homemade employees, and Heidi help customers get some delicious ice cream. (Natalie Mollinet/City Journals).

Chris and Heidi Neilson, a family here in Sugar House, knew that getting a job for their son, Jack, who has special needs, would involve them taking the task into their own hands. 

“So, what happened is that we have a son who went to Highland High School and was in the VIP program which is a program for kids with special needs,” Heidi said. 

The program helps students with special needs experience jobs after high school and then helps them find a job. For Jack though, he didn’t have a job and his parents knew he needed a job. So, with the help of a friend, the Neilsons heard of an ice cream shop in Dallas, Texas called Howdy Homemade, a store where special needs employees worked. 

“We emailed Tom Landis, the owner of Howdy Homemade in Dallas and said we’d really like to come see your store and see what you do,” said Heidi. 

So, the Neilson family did just that. They were impressed enough that they knew this is how they were going to get Jack a job. So, they bought the licensing rights to Howdy Homemade Salt Lake City. 

Things happened quickly after that and within six months, Howdy Homemade was open for business on Labor Day. The location of Howdy Homemade is at 2670 South and 2000 East. The Neilsons were in luck as the owner of the coffee shop that was there before Howdy was looking to get out of the business. So, the Nielsons transformed a coffee shop into an ice cream shop and it’s been a hit ever since—and not just in the Sugar House community. 

“It’s been amazing, a lot of tears have been shed as families come in here and see what is going on at Howdy Homemade,” Heidi said, talking about families who have children with special needs. “And really, we all have special needs, and when given a chance we can rise to the work.” 

Heidi said that families who have children with special needs ask when they’re going to open another store in Farmington or Lehi since Howdy Homemade in Salt Lake and Dallas are the only two in the country right now. Almost all the employees at Howdy have special needs and they all love their job and aren’t afraid to share their favorite ice cream or help you out with that recommendation. 

“It feels more inclusive and more at home, and you don’t see the special needs,” Heidi said about Howdy Homemade. “Everyone is on the same level here.” 

Now, every Monday and Wednesday morning, Jack is ready for work. Because he’s non-verbal, Jack helps with the set up in the mornings and clean up from the night before and never has to be told to work or be ready, he just wants to. 

“I hope it gives other people the inspiration to do the same, even if they only hire one employee with special needs they have so much potential and they can do so much,” Heidi said. “We put limitations on people a lot and even on ourselves and for us to open an ice cream shop? I never thought I’d open an ice cream shop.”