Stepping Stones Leisure and Hospitality

Published by Scott Miles on 4 July 2022

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From left to right – Scott Miles, Tim White, Craig Mather and James Thomas

James Thomas lives and breathes the hotel and restaurant trade. And from the steps of the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate, he and his management team are building a business that will continue to grow and thrive.

The three sister towns of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate are at the heart of the Kent tourism trade. Perhaps once considered a little down at heel, they are now driving a renaissance in tourism and putting East Kent firmly on the visitor trail.

At the heart of Ramsgate and its picturesque harbour sits the Royal Harbour Hotel, a 28-bed boutique hotel, and its restaurants, Little Ships and Travellers in Italy, owned by James Thomas’s Stepping Stones Leisure.

Inspired by Ramsgate artist Michael Blaker’s picture of the same name, Travellers in Italy brings to Ramsgate a taste of rustic Italian cooking, while Little Ships, a cafe/restaurant marks the extraordinary role Ramsgate played in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. Both are enormously successful and will soon be joined by a third restaurant that will be recognising another important historical link to the harbour town.

James has enjoyed a long career in the hospitality industry at some of the UK’s best hotels in London, including Claridge’s, The Savoy, The Berkeley and Firmdale Hotels.

“Our key cornerstones are quality and sustainability” says James, “which is characterised by everything we do”.

EMI scheme

Building a hospitality business in East Kent is not, however, without its challenges. As with many businesses across the UK, finding and retaining staff is particularly tough.

“The hotel and restaurant trade has been hit hard by Covid and whilst the demand is slowly returning, it is a challenge to find and keep the right staff,” says James. “And being on the end of the line in Ramsgate doesn’t make it any easier – it is a small pool in which to find good people.”

James has two key members of the Stepping Stones Leisure management team, Head Chef Craig Mather and Operations Manager Tim White, who have been instrumental in helping build the business. And as the business looks to a further period of growth and expansion, James was looking for a way to reward them both whilst involving them in the company’s future development.

“It was our work with Kreston Reeves and Partner Scott Miles that suggested the Enterprise Management scheme,” explains James. “I knew I had the right people at the top and felt it appropriate to give them a stake in the business.”

Scott Miles, Partner at Kreston Reeves adds: “James has amazing plans for expansion of his restaurants and building a trusted team is necessary to allow him to fulfil those plans. We worked with him to remove the myth that EMI is complex and costly, breaking down the technical guidance into simple guides and support.

The scheme was, says James, incredibly easy to set up and did not cost anywhere near as much as many business owners might expect.

“There is a belief that EMI schemes are just for big businesses or businesses with large numbers of employees,” says James. “But they are not. They are a powerful way of rewarding key members of staff.

Hospitality businesses facing a tough labour market and wanting to reward and motivate key members of the team are encouraged to follow in James’ footsteps and consider EMI schemes.

Learn more about the Royal Harbour Hotel, Little Ships and Travellers in Italy.

"It was our work with Kreston Reeves and Partner Scott Miles that suggested the Enterprise Management scheme, I knew I had the right people at the top and felt it appropriate to give them a stake in the business."

James Thomas

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