Austin Underwood, 39, went to college right out of high school, and studied to be a prep chef. He’s lived on his own ever since graduation, but since jobs in the restaurant business were hard to find, he worked at a local grocery store for 13 years before asking a local restaurateur for a job. And in the last two years, it’s incredibly exciting to hear how his dreams have begun to unfold!
Here’s more of Sam’s interview with the proud owner of Austin’s Underdawgs:
Best and worst things about owning your own business? “I like making money, and I like the people who work for me. My mom works for me. She does a good job. I also have four different people working for me. I have a friend, Daniel (he has Down syndrome too), who works for me along with his sister.”
The worst thing is the clean up. You have to clean off the grill and everything, and the make it nice for the next party.”
Of all the dogs you sell, what’s your favorite? “My favorite is the Straw Dog. It has raspberry chipotle BBQ sauce with bacon bits, and crispy fried onion straws, on a Vienna beef hot dog.”
Is there anyone who you see as a role model? “I love to cook, and my role model is my boss named David Campisi. I work for him four nights a week, at his own restaurant. I’m a host by the door. I can walk there, it’s four or five blocks away. At night, Uber takes me home.” Austin also now has an item on the menu: “We call it Austin’s Famous Banana Pudding! My grandma made this pudding herself, and then she taught me.” After Austin made it for all the employees at the restaurant, they decided it needed to be on the menu, and people now ask for it at the door!
Austin attended Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell right out of high school, studying to be a prep chef. What did you learn in college that has helped you? “I learned cooking and stir-frying. I was the stir-fry chef at the college cafeteria. I learned how to put in what people want in it—shrimp, rice. I enjoyed doing that.”
Would you recommend college to others? “Yes. They can live in the dorm by themselves, they can learn how to go to the grocery store, and buy their own groceries.”
What do you like to do in your free time? “I like to play tennis, and go to the movies. I also like to go bowling, or go workout, and I like to ride my bicycle. I like to hang out with my parents at their house and have dinner. That’s what I like the most. Sometimes they call me and I walk over for dinner.”
Where’s your favorite place to be? “I like to go the beach, and I like going on cruises. I’ve been on four Disney cruises. I like all the food, the shows, and movies. It’s nice they have a schedule so you can tell what time everything starts and when it’s over.”
What are you most looking forward to? “We might do something with Tim Harris, so he might go with me to Lubbock—he’s a lot of fun and a great person.”
What are your goals for the future? “I like cooking hot dogs because it makes me feel good. I like working in my new RV. I want to expand my business.”
What advice do you have for others with Down syndrome? “I want people with Down syndrome to be like me and have their own business and their own place—to learn to be independent. That’s what I want for them . . . and also to listen to their mothers and fathers. My advice is for people to learn how to make money, cook on their own, do laundry, and clean their houses.”
This year Austin and Jan plan to turn Austin’s Underdawg’s into a franchise that will give back—by providing many more people with disabilities the opportunity to own their own hot dog businesses, and by donating a portion of the Underdawg’s proceeds directly toward starting a vocational program for people with intellectual disabilities on the well-situated property (by 3 major colleges and universities), which Jan inherited from her family.