Interview and blog post by Sarah Blackwell
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 14 years before asking a local restaurateur for a job. It’s incredibly exciting to hear how his dreams have begun to unfold over the last two years.
Tell us about yourself:
My name is Austin Underwood and I have Down syndrome. I am 39 years old.
Tell us about your company:
Austin’s Underdawgs is a hot dog truck and we have a franchise.
When did you decide you were ready to start your own business?
Who helped you start your business?
My mother helped me start my business.
What made you want to start your business?
I wanted to start my own business and be my own boss.
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 different people working for me. I have a friend, Daniel (he has Down syndrome too), who works for me along with his sister, Sarah. I would say that when people come back for another hot dog and book more parties it makes me happy. My favorite part is being the face of Austin’s Underdawgs and making people happy. I also like helping everyone learn how to do their jobs.
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. After a party we have to clean the counters, the steamers, the rollers, pull in the generators and the ice chests, and pack up.
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 100% 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, I know you attended Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell right out of high school, and studied 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 think makes for a happy life?
Having a dream to work and being independent.
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?
I am going to Italy with my family and some friends in March, and I am turning 40 in May. I am excited to turn 40.
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.