‘I now come as one package: rugby and coffee’

Athlete career transition special: Alex O’Meara is the founder and owner of Blackbeard Coffee, and plays rugby professionally for Richmond. He has previously played at the Cornish Pirates in the Championship. You can follow Alex on Instagram and LinkedIn

It all started during the first lockdown when, like most people, my partner and I settled into a routine being home all day and drank copious amounts of coffee. We’d often say how cool it would be to own our own coffee company – then I wouldn’t have to keep buying all this coffee!

The owner of Pirates, Dicky Evans, an amazing bloke, asked a company to provide an entrepreneurial business course for the Pirate players during lockdown to keep our minds focussed and as my partner worked shifts as a veterinary nurse, I had time on my hands and thought, why not?

One case study was about owning a café and, wanting to know more, I spoke to Brad Barritt, an ex-Saracens rugby player who had developed his own coffee brand. We had several conversations about partnering with them to develop their sales in the southwest – but at the time that didn’t go anywhere but with a hunger to do just that I kept that at the forefront of my mind. In 2021 I signed a new one-year contract at Pirates and being in the latter stages of my 20’s it got me to thinking about life after rugby, I wasn’t going to be playing this great game forever.

By a stroke of coincidence, I met a guy whose family had a coffee roastery in Kenya and I shared with him my aspiration to develop my own coffee brand. Luckily for me, he bought into my vision and he eventually became my business partner as we founded Blackbeard Coffee.

But what I never expected to happen was that starting Blackbeard Coffee enabled me to play better rugby – more so than I could ever have imagined.

Life hasn’t always been rosy; like a lot of professional athletes, I have struggled a lot with anxiety in the past. Always thinking about team selection, competing against your team-mates for the right to wear the jersey, did I play well enough? What are the media saying about me? Dealing with not being included. It gets to you … on repeat, week in week out.

Playing professional rugby also gave me a lot of time off. We trained hard, every day till around mid-afternoon and afterwards I’d end up going home to watch movies or sport, eat, sleep and return the next day for more of the same. At weekends we’d have games or be travelling. I had a lot of spare time that wasn’t filled with much! And this is when I turned my attention to making Blackbeard Coffee something big.

What happened next? I was coming to the end of my contract at Cornish Pirates and it felt the right time to move out of Cornwall after seven years. My partner, who is Cornish also wanted to experience London and so in the spring of 2022, I signed a contract to play for Richmond RFC.

Richmond is a semi-professional club so I knew this was going to give me more time to get Blackbeard up and running. Not content with just playing rugby anymore I took a bold leap of faith and bought a coffee trailer with the intention of attending gigs, festivals and to sell our coffee. I saw this as the way to make my next step.

When Richmond got to hear about my acquisition, they signed me as a player AND to be the exclusive coffee retailer at the ground. How lucky was I? This trailer now sits at the front of the entrance gates to the club and has gone from strength to strength.

You’ll often see a queue of people outside waiting to buy my coffee. Learning fast as we were not just selling to the game crowd, we were offering coffees to the parents of sometimes up to 600 mini rugby kids on a Sunday morning and selling at Richmond’s many festivals and events. I quickly learnt how to be a barista extraordinaire!

I am constantly learning new things about coffee – we all know that coffee gives you that adrenaline rush but caffeine also has proven properties to help ease anxieties and for someone like me, this is a win-win. My research into the positive effects of caffeine have and will continue to educate me and I promote this within Blackbeard’s marketing campaigns.

It has helped me hugely in my mental health and I like to share this with other people. There is so much more to a simple cup of coffee.

My focus has always been that my coffee was going on a journey just as much as my rugby journey. With Richmond, it was perfect timing – they’ve been amazing. My sporting career and business career are working hand in hand and I’m also playing the best rugby of my career! I miss the Cornish vibe, but in Richmond everything is looking great for me personally and Blackbeard Coffee.