From conversions to coffee cups: why this rugby pro swapped the ball for beans

Sam Smith, founder of Wayland’s Yard. Image credit: James Silvanus-Davis (

Birmingham’s independent coffee scene has been kick-started once more with the arrival of Wayland’s Yard on Bull Street. Already established in Worcester, the café’s second branch opened in the city last month to huge acclaim. However, just as impressive as the Instagrammable cappuccinos and the hearty brunches, is the story of the brains behind the brand. Sam Smith founded Wayland’s Yard back in 2016, but those in the know will recognise him from his professional rugby career; playing for both Harlequins and Worcester Warriors, as well as the England under 21s.

A rugby player might not be everyone’s first thought when they think of a coffee connoisseur or entrepreneur, but Sam flips the preconception on its head. After first discovering how keen for caffeine he was while indulging in London’s coffee scene during his six-year Harlequins career, Sam missed the coffee-shop culture when moving to the Midlands to join the Worcester Warriors.

Pushing his passion to the try line, Sam became an avid homebrewer, spending his time off the pitch learning all there was to know about coffee. While on tour, Sam would visit as many speciality coffee shops as possible, constantly expanding his knowledge and giving him a firm grounding in bean-grinding.

The catalyst to convert his coffee-loving from a pastime to a profession came in the form of injury when Sam first tore his quadriceps muscle in January 2014, and subsequently suffered another four tears. Despite undergoing surgery and physiotherapy to get back to full-form, Sam had to admit defeat and retire in June 2016, when he was unable to sprint past 90% of his top speed. However, he refused for it to be his final whistle, and set his sights on opening his own shop.

“At first, people were surprised and it’s understandable; I’d never even worked a shift in hospitality before opening Wayland’s Yard, having started full-time with Harlequins the week after my last A-level exam. However, I’d set my mind to it and I think my sportsman-mentality meant that I was determined to make it a success; failure was absolutely not an option,” Sam says.

“What’s more, opening a speciality coffee shop in Worcester was daunting as they aren’t any others doing very similar stuff to us. I had a vision for Wayland’s Yard from the off, wanting to create a place that everyone could congregate for a variety of reasons – from enjoying proper coffee, proper food but also to work on their latest project, meet up with friends and make new friends. I hoped that the people of Worcester would buy into the vivid image of my shop, and with hard-work, grit, a stellar team, and a bit of luck, it’s all paid off.”

Though not a conventional start-up story, Sam’s business journey is testament to the corporate climate that we currently live in. Young entrepreneurs aren’t following in the footsteps of family businesses or signing up for business management degrees; they’re turning their hobbies into jobs, using their passion – and most importantly, their networks – to get paid.

“Social media has clearly made it easier to get the word out about your new business, with your potential clients only a click away from stepping through your doors. Wayland’s Yard is community-centric and social media has only added to this, allowing us to interact with our customers long after they have left.

“However, that also means that your competitors can do the same. The advantage we have is that team we’ve grown at Wayland’s Yard believes in our product and is also reflective of our target market. Therefore, they are always selling the brand just by being themselves, on social media, in their friend groups, and of course, behind the counter. When every business is working to be heard above the rest, it’s this authenticity that I think gives us the edge,” added Sam.

So, if it wasn’t for injury, would Wayland’s Yard exist? Sam definitely thinks so: “I’d always wanted to own a café from a young age, as I’ve always loved food! When I then grew a taste for coffee, this pushed my ambition even further. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to be a rugby player forever, and that I’d have to pave my own future after. Keen to work for myself, the concept of running a business like Wayland’s Yard works perfectly for me. It’s something I know, something I care about, and as I’ve now discovered, something I’m good at: what more could you ask for from your 9-5?”

Wayland’s Yard now operates in both Birmingham and Worcester, and is open every day, serving proper coffee and proper food. To find out more about Wayland’s Yard can offer, visit