Beloved are our Columbus food trucks. They’ve had an interesting and evolving impact on the local dining scene in just a few short years, and 2012 promises a new round of innovation with the official launch of Dinin’ Hall in May.
Dinin’ Hall will be the first “street food pod” in Columbus (San Francisco is also getting their first one this Spring) which provides additional amenities to food truck dining, including indoor seating, a centralized checkout system, and a built environment more welcoming to newcomers who have previously been on the fence about eating out of mobile vehicles.
In January, entrepreneurs and architects Tim Lai and Eliza Ho presented Dinin’ Hall here on Columbus Underground as a concept worthy of exploration and discussion. The feedback provided by our readers has helped to mold the idea into a business model, which Tim and Eliza will be launching at 400 West Rich Street in Franklinton in May.
We spoke with Tim and Eliza for a Q&A session about the business concept to find out what we can expect at Dinin’ Hall:
Q: Just two months ago, you presented the concept of Dinin’ Hall to our readers. There was plenty of feedback ranging from the excited to the skeptical, but overall our readers were very interested in the concept and engaged in the process. Can you tell us a bit about how that feedback was used to refine the concept?
A: We really appreciate all the feedback. We, as designers and architects, see getting feedback as an important part of our design process. We set out to design a solution that can improve the street food experience. We came up with some preliminary ideas, which we proposed in our article two months ago. After hearing people’s comments and suggestions, we took those ideas back to our drawing board for revisions and refinement. Like you said, Columbus Underground readers are intrigued by this idea of Columbus’ first street food hub, and the discussions have evolved around how to make it work and most importantly, the essence of street food eating. We realized that street food has become popular in Columbus is more than just great food. Customers value the interactions and the personal connection with the owners of the trucks and carts. So, our revised design for Dinin’ Hall will preserve this element and make all the other things more efficient and more comfortable.
So, let me use this diagram to explain how Dinin’ Hall is designed to work:
Customers approach the food trucks and carts directly to make (and customize) their orders. They will then receive a pay slip and an order number, which they will bring inside Dinin’ Hall and pay at the centralized cashier. After the transaction, they can find seating and wait for their food to be brought in by our runners.
The advantage of this centralized cashier is to let food trucks and carts concentrate on making good food without worrying the transactions. For customers, this system helps lessen the time of waiting in front of the food trucks and carts. Once they make their order, they will move inside to pay and sit down. The centralized cashier helps break up their time of waiting and involves their action of moving from outdoor to indoor. These will definitely make waiting time fly by quicker and more relaxing once they can sit down and wait for the food.
We didn’t invent this centralized cashier idea; it is a result of talking to many food truck and cart owners. They see the potential of this system in helping them become more efficient. At the same time, this system still allows them to greet their customers and take orders. Also, the indoor seating at Dinin’ Hall leads them to think about expanding their menus. Now that customers can sit to eat, it is more relaxing and there can be more food options.
Q: Can you give us an overview of the format of Dinin’ Hall now that the concept is moving forward? How will it work for customers, what will the hours be, what is the location and what other details should our readers know?
A: Dinin’ Hall is going to be Columbus’ first street food hub. It is located in the emerging East Franklinton area at 400 West Rich Street, a historical warehouse turned artist colony. To reference the history of the site, Dinin’ Hall’s interior will have an industrial feel. For example, the focal point of the space is a 14-foot long work table we found in the building. We’re going to clean it up and paint it to become our communal table for 14 people to sit around. The rest of the tables and shelving will also be made of the salvaged wood found in the building that would otherwise be trashed. To further minimize waste, we are working with food vendors and Eartha Limited to provide all compostable service wares to ensure 90% of the “waste” will be either composted or recycled. Dinin’ Hall is designed to be a comfortable environment where street food brings people together, creating a whole new street food experience and building foodie communities.
Initially, Dinin’ Hall will operate from Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will feature a rotating roster of three or four food trucks and carts each day to serve a variety of street food. So far, we have about 15 of veteran and new trucks and carts signed up, and we’re still looking for more. In addition to many well-known trucks and carts, we’re particularly excited about the newcomers. Their menus range from Korean pancakes to Polish pierogi, to gourmet burgers, to food inspired by Italian cuisine and Caribbean recipes. So, Dinin’ Hall is going to be a marketplace for international street food.
Dinin’ Hall has the capacity to do more and serve more. On top of its indoor dining area, Dinin’ Hall will expand with outdoor, patio seating in warmer months. Dinin’ Hall is also an event space ideal for meet-ups, networking, parties, and receptions. Our services include lining up with trucks and carts to cater for those events.
Q: What role do you think Dinin’ Hall might play in the continued revitalization efforts in Franklinton?
A: Since its opening last summer, 400 West Rich has become the major force in revitalizing East Franklinton. Joining the existing tenants of 50+ artists and folks in the creative industries, our architect firm, Tim Lai ArchitecT, moved into the building late last year, and we really enjoy the creative vibe around here. We see great potential in the building and the positive energy in the artistic community. Dinin’ Hall will become an important addition to the building and the area. First, it will bring food and retail to this area, which is currently preoccupied by warehouses and empty lots. Second, it will serve as a catalyst to transform East Franklinton from a transient place into a destination. It will make the East Franklinton a creative gateway into the Downtown, which is an important step to connect the riverfront to Franklinton as Columbus oldest neighborhood. It will definitely help boost the revitalization effort of the area spearheaded by the East Franklinton Creative Community District Plan. (Click here for more information on the plan.)
Q: What role do you think Dinin’ Hall might play in business incubation efforts for food carts, food trucks and other food vendors?
A: Dinin’ Hall thrives on the synergy of different food trucks, carts, and vendors. It provides a regular platform for them to learn from each other and grow together. For new food trucks and carts, it offers an environment to launch their business and build their customer base. For existing trucks and carts, it gives them exposure to new customer and helps to advertise their expanded services like catering. It can also be a testing ground for food trucks and carts to work out the kinks before they commit to opening brick-and-mortar restaurants. As a whole, Dinin’ Hall will help promote the mobile food industry and set a new standard for street food dining.
As for the concept of business incubator, we must acknowledge ECDI (Economic and Community Development Institute) as our biggest inspiration. We are the architect and designer working with ECDI on different projects together in the past year, including Celebrate Local, Food Fort, and its training programs. Through these, we have become familiar with their comprehensive programs to help start-up businesses get off the ground and grow. We see the positive impact they’ve brought to the small business world, and we truly admire their commitment to invest in our local economy and community. Dinin’ Hall certainly shares these values.
Q: When is the grand opening planned, and what other details do we need to know?
A: Because there are so many food trucks and carts to try, we’re organize for our customers a grand opening week on May 14th through May 18th, Monday through Friday from 11a.m. -2 p.m. Each day, we feature our vendors’ signature dishes and most popular items. There will also be food tasting and fun activities each day in the grand opening week.
More information will be available soon at www.dininhall.com.