Footballing Hero Brewed Up Cafe PlanNeil Hardie
For John Souttar, this was a bright idea that emerged from a moment of immense darkness.
It was August 2020 and the Hearts and Scotland defender had had a relapse of the ruptured Achilles tendon he had suffered seven months prior.
Having endured the physical and mental torture associated with recovering from the same injury before – twice – the thought of doing it all over again seemed mountainous.
Moreover, was there a more serious reason for the recurrence, something that might make a full rehabilitation impossible.
While those fears were evidently unfounded – Souttar is in the form of his life and coveted by myriad clubs on either side of the border – the pragmatic Luthermuir lad was considering the “what ifs”.
So, he and close pal Euan Spark, a former Dundee United team-mate and now captain of Elgin City, brewed up a business plan for a coffee shop in Brechin.
And last month, albeit a year behind schedule due to Covid, Maison Dieu Coffee Roasters was opened – named after the ancient nearby chapel.
“The idea came after the relapse of my second Achilles injury,” Souttar said.
“It was a time when I had to be honest and say to myself: ‘I might need to do something else.’
“I also knew that – even in the best-case scenario – I was going to be out for a long time.
“If I was going to launch a business while still playing, it was the perfect opportunity to do that.
“I spoke to (partner) Kayley and Sparky about going on a roasting course to see what it was like. It was something we really enjoyed and it snowballed.”
As well as providing a potential Plan B, the idea – from inception to creation – was a welcome distraction from talk of surgeries and rehabilitation.
Souttar also became a father for the first time during that rollercoaster period in his life, with the arrival of daughter Myla.
Indeed, those diversions from football remain invaluable to this day.
Aside from the odd grateful patron congratulating him on those Hampden heroics against Denmark last month, his place in Angus is a million miles away from the intensity of top-level football.
“The distraction was important,” recalled Souttar. “I was focusing on the business and the wee one, Myla, arrived around the same time.
“That’s another thing that takes you away from football and focuses your min d on what’s really important.
“It made that period a lot easier to deal with.
“I still get the chance to get away from football, which everyone needs.
“I love football but if everything you do is wrapped up in that, then it’s not the best. A lot of the boys have different ways to switch off and this is mine.”
Souttar is no mere angel investor. He provides plenty of graft to go with the capital, even toiling behind the bar.
Souttar and Spark both took intensive courses to learn about roasting beans, barista work and the moral imperatives within the industry.
Going a step beyond Fair Trade, Maison Dieu deals directly with specific farms to ensure growers get the right price.
“We work with a guy who is originally from Guatemala but lives in Glasgow,” said Souttar. “He goes back over and visits nine farms – his old school mates own them.
“So he’s been on FaceTime saying: ‘We’ve got footballers over in Scotland using your coffee,’ and they’re buzzing with that. That’s a really cool aspect of this.”
Spark, meanwhile, is sweeping up coffee grounds as Souttar’s partner, Kayley, holds baby Myla while chatting to customers.
“I’ve known Sparky since we were five or six, ” said Souttar. “We went to the same primary school.
“It’s fair to say we never imagined we’d be doing this when we were at Dundee United!”
The suggestion that this could be the start of a coffee empire is met with a laugh and a shrug. One step at a time.
For the moment, is content serving the community he calls home.
“Kayley is able to spend time here and, because it’s in Brechin, our families can come along,” he added. “It just brings everyone together – that’s something we want to do here.
“My dad is still involved with Brechin City and I go along to a few of the games whenever I can.
“This is my home and I always wanted to give something back.”