A beloved ice cream shop that has been struggling to survive the pandemic earned a sweet surprise live on TODAY Friday morning — a $50,000 grant.
Howdy Homemade, located in Dallas, Texas, is known for its original, delicious flavors, but also its public service mission. All of its employees are individuals with special needs.
Founder Tom Landis said that he was inspired to open the store after meeting one person who thoroughly impressed him.
"It was a real busy night at one of my other restaurants when I met Coleman (Jones), and he just immediately jumped in and helped serve food and was super friendly," Landis explained on TODAY. "I called his mom up the next day and said, 'Hey, you know, I want to hire this guy.' He has so much potential, written all over him, and leadership."
Now, Jones is the face of the sweet store.
"I was blessed that I ultimately get the opportunity to not only be employed for Tom, but to also be an asset where you're going to blossom," Jones said.
"If I'm behind the counter and someone comes in, they have a visual look of disappointment on their face," Landis said. "They want to see Coleman, they want to see my crew. They're doing what they do, and frankly, they do it better than me."
When the pandemic hit, like so many other businesses, Howdy Homemade was severely affected, closing temporarily to ensure the safety of its employees. Even after reopening, customer traffic was slow and catering orders were limited, leading to the risk of permanent closure.
"I think it got to the point honestly where it took absolutely a very clear message of me realizing 'You know what? I can't do it. I can't do it, and it's time to throw in the towel,'" Landis said. "And I honestly think that's when God said 'You can't do it? Yep, no, you can't. But you know what? I'm going to surround you with a village of people, people from all over Dallas.'"
The community rallied around Landis, Jones, and Howdy Homemade. A friend of Landis' organized a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $100,000 for the shop and brought it more attention than ever.
When talking about the sweet success on TODAY with Hoda and Jenna, a virtual wall of fans cheered on Jones and Landis. The virtual wall included one special guest: CNBC's "The Profit" host Marcus Lemonis, who Howdy Homemade with a $50,000 grant.
"I spend my whole career, my whole life, really helping businesses get to the next level and it’s clear to me that you guys are prepared to get to that next level," he said. "I would like to give you a $50,000 grant specifically used to hire more people to grow what you’re trying to do in the Dallas community."
"I think all of us through this entire pandemic are blown away by the leadership you’re showing and the role models the two of you are to the rest of us," Lemonis continued.
Jones and Landis were thrilled by the gift. They were already using the GoFundMe funds to expand the business: Landis invested in an ice cream truck to get in on the food-truck craze and was planning to create more jobs at the shop. The new grant will allow them to grow even further.
"It's humbling," said Landis, who called Lemonis' grant "unbelievable."
"We've had multiple times where you just stop and tear up because it's no longer our restaurant. It's truly the City of Dallas' restaurant," he said. "People are not supporting Howdy Homemade because of Tom Landis. They're supporting it because of Coleman and the others, and I think as more businesses start to realize that, the world will change."