Vida Sharp and Tom Emanuel were both born and raised in Noe Valley. Sharp went to high school in the city, Emanuel on the Peninsula — somehow, their paths didn’t cross. It wasn’t until the pandemic when their forays into college would be brought short (a global pandemic works as an inciting incident for this tale) that they’d find themselves back in their old neighborhood where they’d fall in love. And not just with each other, but with coffee. “We found this love of coffee, and the experiences coffee brought up,” Sharp says. “We want to continue to explore all that together on our own.”
The two now live together in the Lower Haight and run Third Wheel Coffee, a mobile coffee cart and espresso bar. When the pandemic thundered into their lives a few years ago, Sharp was studying at Davidson College in North Carolina and Emanuel at San Diego State University. Sharp was the manager at the late Spin City Coffee; she grew up around the corner. Noe Cafe opened in the old Spin City space during the pandemic, and Sharp and Emanuel were able to get jobs at the new business. Pretty soon, their friendship blossomed into romance, and, pretty soon after that, they stumbled upon something amazing: an 11-foot-long, handsome wood, and fully operational bike cart — and an espresso machine from 1963. “We were just browsing eBay, looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Oh my God,’” Emanuel says.
After pop-ups at the Castro Farmers Market and a few private events, a mutual friend at Lucinda’s Deli reached out to the budding business to see if the two would like to run the bar at the (literally) underground deli and sandwich shop. Kitty corner from Alamo Square Park, the location couldn’t be more ideal for the Lower Haight couple. In July 2022, they built and installed a coffee counter inside the business. Their menu is classic espresso and drip coffee offerings — espresso goes for $3.75. They sell cold brew concentrate by the 32-ounce jar, and are known to serve cinnamon coffee cake from Karen’s Cookie Kitchen, too. “We want to focus on what we’re serving and have it be high quality — and not expand too quickly,” Sharp says of the young company.
The original coffee bike was a bit unwieldy (and difficult for permitting purposes) so once again the couple got crafty and retooled an antique liquor cabinet into a new espresso bar that fits in their Prius. Looking ahead, the two are still studying psychology, though they’ve transferred to San Francisco State University and plan to stay in the city. Maybe a cafe down the road. But for now the two are pleased as punch to be pushing forward their business and their relationship. “I love doing this. I think it’d be really amazing if we could do something with this down the line,” Sharp says. “Regardless of where the business goes, we want to look back on this and not regret it, to say we learned something.”
Third Wheel Coffee is available at Lucinda’s Deli Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays at the Castro Farmers Market and are available to book for private events.