The Beginning

And now the story of Howdy Homemade and its beginning.

Some of you may have been in a position to ask the question, “After my special needs child, sibling, or friend ages out of the school system, what will they do?” I always had this weird idea that Jack would never grow up—that he would stay a school-age kid forever. But at age 21, Jack was done with school and ready to move on. We were at a loss about what to do to help Jack have a rewarding and productive life. Well…do you believe there is a higher power in charge? I do, and I believe that Jack’s life plan—along with a bigger plan for our family’s future—was already in the works.

It all began on a beautiful beach in Maui. Our dear friends Dave and Becky Burbidge asked us, “What is Jack going to do after graduation?” Our response was, “Not sure, any ideas?” And there it was: They had visited an ice cream shop in Dallas, Texas. It was located in the Highland Park area and they employed individuals with special needs. This was it!

My husband immediately emailed the owner, Tom Landis, and indicated that we were interested in his store and its concept. No sooner had the email been sent than a response came. Tom was excited and willing to tell us about the store and what he was trying to accomplish. He also had a son named Jack. Although his son does not have special needs, it felt like a connection that we both had Jacks.

At the risk of skipping around too much can I add that through every experience whether good or bad it is the people you meet along the way that end up changing your life? Even if nothing else ever came out of the initial email other than meeting Tom it would have been worth it. One of the most important ideas we have taken away from our own work in recovery due to our son’s addiction is this: The opposite of addiction is not sobriety but meaningful human connections. The relationships and connections we have made by being forced to step out of our comfort zone are more valuable than else anything in life.

Back to the story of Howdy Homemade’s Salt Lake journey…

This email exchange with Tom was in January of 2017 and we kind of sat on it for a while. Fast forward to spring break of that year. While sitting on another beach in Newport, California and sharing a lovely week with some neighbors and close friends, Dave and Susan Koelliker, Howdy came up again. My husband Chris was explaining the idea to Dave who is battling a brain tumor.

Oh yes, another detour... If you want a great book to read, pick up a copy of Everybody Needs a Brain Tumor, written by our friend Dave Koelliker his son. You will love it.

As soon as Chris explained the Howdy idea, Dave called his wife over and said, “Sue, Chris and I are opening an ice cream shop and we are going to be surrounded by angels. And by the way, clear my schedule we are flying to Dallas to meet Tom and see Howdy Homemade in action.” Mind you, Dave, my favorite endodontist, had been forced to sell his practice due to the brain tumor and had a fairly clear schedule already!

So, we found ourselves in Dallas, headed to the Highland Park neighborhood to meet Tom and decide if this was truly going to happen. To say that we were blown away is an understatement. This little ice cream shop was heaven on Earth and yes, angels worked there. We were sold and ready to put the wheels in motion. This was truly going to happen. Howdy was coming to Salt Lake City and Jack was going to have a job with purpose.

By July we had signed a lease on a small spot just up the street from Highland Park Elementary. For us this was one of many signs that Howdy Homemade was supposed to open in Salt Lake. Both stores would be located in an area referred to as Highland Park. A coincidence, I think not.

A goal to open the doors by Labor Day was set, and we enlisted anyone that happened to be somewhat connected to us. We may have abused those meaningful human connections but we did it out of need and love!

Equipment was bought, the store was brightened up and we were getting excited and anxious. The anxiety came from the fact that we were opening in 2 weeks and still had never made ice cream. But the Howdy team from Dallas came to the rescue again. They arrived in force, shared recipes, and stocked our freezers. There was no turning back; Salt Lake City was in store for one of the best things to ever happen.

We opened to a mass crowd. The lines were out the door, across the parking lot, and onto the sidewalk. It will always be one of the best days of my life. It was the most beautiful sight to see the community support, embrace, and love Howdy Homemade. Many quickly found that not only was our store’s concept pretty dang cool but we had amazing homemade ice cream. In fact, we have now been awarded Best of State for ice cream in Utah. Not bad for only being opened 6 months at the time!

Well, that is the story in an ice cream cone. Amazing right? Everything fell into place and miracles happened, but I have forgotten to mention the biggest miracle to me throughout the whole opening: I was lying in bed one night and it dawned on me that my Grandpa had opened Duffin’s ice cream over 50 years ago in Salt Lake City. Not only did he have the best ice cream in Utah but he and my Grandma had a beautiful daughter with special needs named Kay.

Could it be that my Grandpa, who I always had a special relationship with, was prodding and pushing from the other side to bring a dream of his own to a reality? I strongly believe he must have always wished he could have employed his own daughter in his ice cream shop.

My faith has ebbed and flowed, perhaps like many others, but I can’t deny that my Grandpa had a hand in this. I am proud to be his granddaughter and hopefully he is proud of my family and our dedication to ice cream and inclusiveness.

Miracles and divine intervention have been plentiful in the story of Howdy Homemade. Along with my Grandpa’s hand in the shop I am and always will be a firm believer in miracles. I have seen them firsthand in my life.

Many years ago, I watched Jack brought back to life when he should have died. He lived because of an inspired feeling that a loving husband and dad had that led him to change course and follow us home from the hospital after a surgery. And at the same time, our next-door neighbor Reese Howell just happened to walk in and was able to help in saving Jack. Without Jack here, there would be no Howdy. This is just one of the sweetest of many miracles in respect to our son Jack.

As I look back upon miracles such as this, I believe the bringing of Howdy Homemade to Salt Lake was in the works long before the spring of 2017.

As I write this blog my intention has never been to make it a spiritual blog but Howdy would not be here without the spiritual aspect. Where else would angels work? Or where else could you go on a Tuesday night to meet our spiritual partner and giant of a man, Dave Koelliker. Although his brain tumor makes him so very tired you can still find him at the store, greeting customers and sharing his love.

Our hope is that the miracles and magic of Howdy will continue as long as it is needed. Come in and feel the joy for yourself. Try our special, one-of-a-kind Dr. Pepper ice cream. Meet our staff and enjoy a few moments of heaven. I promise you will not be disappointed.


Heidi Nielson