Scott Bolles

From left: Chris James, Tom Rutherford and Robert Rubis of the Truffle Group of restaurants.
Accountant-turned-restauranteur ... Chris James, left, pictured here with his business partners Tom Rutherford, centre, and Robert Rubis, right. Photo: Paul Jones

Manta restaurant co-owner Chris James has drowned after setting out on Sydney Harbour on his kayak.

"Chris was really fit and experienced [on the kayak]," says his business partner, Rob Rubis.

The incident occurred during the Christmas break.

Rubis described James, 48, as a talented deal maker who expanded their restaurant group to include Manta, La Grillade and Vicinity. An accountant-turned-restaurateur, James also helped seal deals that swept Liquidity and the restaurants at Centrepoint Tower into the group.

"Our business quadrupled in a year," Rubis says. "He was forward thinking, he was keen to [list] the group [on the stock market]."

Concerning a public campaign from some former staff members over allegations of unpaid superannuation, Rubis says "we've been paying down debt. The goal was to resolve all aspects of the business and everything was heading in the right direction."

Rubis says James was planning a sea change to the NSW south coast.