Tim Lai pulls out his phone to snap a photograph of his Yuengling-braised pork belly (served with three pierogi and a grain mustard tarragon butter) while we sit at an upcycled table inside Dinin' Hall. Whether the photo is to promote Sophie's Gourmet Pierogi truck on social media or for personal documentation, there's no question that he loves his lunch.

Tim Lai pulls out his phone to snap a photograph of his Yuengling-braised pork belly (served with three pierogi and a grain mustard tarragon butter) while we sit at an upcycled table inside Dinin' Hall. Whether the photo is to promote Sophie's Gourmet Pierogi truck on social media or for personal documentation, there's no question that he loves his lunch.

As the designers, operators and proprietors of the Franklinton food truck cafeteria, he and his partner, Eliza Ho, are constantly multitasking. The two-person boutique architecture firm partners with some of the city's tiniest dining institutions with a feisty and bold initiative: to use design to make their Columbus better, one food truck, bird mural and vegan diner at a time.

Why do you choose to do work for small businesses?

Eliza: It's a mentality. We're a small firm. A lot of times, we feel like we fit into that small and local community better. We want to support local business, so we want to provide value. We're in the same boat.

TIM LAI & ELIZA HO

WORK AT: Tim Lai Architect

PAST PROJECTS: City Beet Cafe, Dinin' Hall, Ella, Mozart's Bakery

Is it frustrating when only a portion of your design gets done?

Tim: Yes and no. If you're bothered by the fact that everything you design doesn't get done, it would drive you crazy. The percentage of the stuff [that gets implemented] is quite low.

Eliza: Maybe 20 percent.

Tim: When you're a designer, it's almost like you're giving birth to a child. There's so much you can show them or teach them. But they're going to have their own life. It's out of your control, eventually.

Are there brands that inspire you in Columbus?

Eliza: We like Tasi. I like the European feel. They repurposed some of the old furniture. They have the old tables but use the nice chairs to tie the whole design together. And we like Haiku, particularly the patio. It's really nicely done.

Tim: The patio has two layers of the canopy: the hard plastic to keep that water out, and then underneath, the fabric. It's white, barely hanging, so when you're in there, especially in the evening-around 5-there are two filters for the sun. And with the water element, it's really great. I think it's amazing.

Eliza: We both like Northstar Cafe in Clintonville a lot.

Tim: What's interesting about Northstar is that it's as much [about] the owner as the designer. The owner has to make that commitment and have that vision to give the designer the ability to create something really unique. The intention of the owner and the designer [has] to go hand in hand. It doesn't always happen.

Dinin' Hall is unique in that you not only designed it, but you own and operate it as well. Was that always the plan?

Tim: We didn't really plan on opening a food-related business. There was a big debate going back and forth internally on whether we should do it or not. At the end of the day, we felt that it was just a unique idea, that if we ended up not doing it, it would be a shame, a disappointment.

There were skeptics. Some people said, "That's never going to work. People go to food trucks because people actually want to sit on a curb to eat. They don't care about sitting."

We felt differently about that, so we wanted to prove a point: that design can actually make a difference in terms of how people experience food trucks and the food that people have to offer. We said, "Screw it. Let's do it." And obviously, the benefit is that we can eat all kinds of really great food. That's just fantastic.