I met a new friend, Ted Belding of Belding Consulting, Inc, for a one-to-one lunch today. We met at one of my favorite downtown restaurants, Marnee Thai. Ted is pretty much a certified genius. I mean, he and I both cut our teeth in the Computer Science Department at University of Michigan. I’m no slouch at this stuff, but the things he told me that he works on for a living sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction novel. As near as I understand it, he uses genetic algorithms and techniques derived from the swarming behaviors of ants and bees in order to optimize processes in all kinds of industries.

Like I said, he’s a certified genius.

Anyway, we had a great chat over lunch talking about his work, starting a business, and the challenges of explaining what he does to a non-technical audience. Lunch was tasty, too. But, did Marnee Thai add to the success of the lunch or could I have found a better place to spend our time? Read on.

Name: Marnee Thai
Type:  Restaurant
Pros: Tasty food, pleasant decor, relatively quiet, even during height of lunch hour. They even have free wi-fi.
Cons: No free parking. Service is relaxed.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Marnee Thai had recently had some renovation done. About half of the tables with hard wooden chairs had been replaced by booths with cushioned seats. This had the double benefit of being a lot more comfortable to sit in for long periods of time and the soft surfaces cut down on the noise levels even during the busiest part of the lunch hour. I’m getting to “that age” and I’m starting to find it a bit difficult to hear my table companions when the ambient noise gets too loud.

The food is always tasty, but be warned: Unlike places like McDonalds which does everything the same way every time, Marnee Thai has different chefs on any given day which means that the food, while always yummy may taste a little different every time. If you prefer your food predictable, consider yourself forewarned. The manager, Kurt Burke, is always friendly and willing to help out however he can. His staff never tries to rush you. Some might confuse this with being slow, but the food is always at the table quickly and the waters are always full. They just don’t try to clear you out at the end of the meal. Much appreciated.

About the only real complaints people might have about the establishment are the same ones shared by almost any downtown Ann Arbor location — the lack of free parking. There is a pay lot right across the street, but for some people, this would be a deal-breaker. Theirs is the loss.

With the exception of those two minor issues (which aren’t even a consideration in my book), I’d say Marnee Thai is almost the perfect place to do your lunchtime networking. Between the delicious food, pleasant atmosphere, and friendly staff, you could certainly do a lot worse if you found yourself in downtown Ann Arbor looking for a spicy networking lunch.