It was 2011, and Noam Mantaka had just been robbed and was left stranded on the sidewalk with a broken leg and a cracked skull, waiting for help to arrive in Bakersfield, California.
After lying in a hospital bed for eight days, the doctor told him he might never walk again.
This wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time that Mantaka was left in and out.
Prior to his arrival in Cheyenne, the world was particularly rough for Mantaka, whom most of the community would know as the owner of the Noam’s Table food truck that can often be seen parked at various downtown locations.
There wasn’t always a food truck, and he often didn’t have any cash, but there was always a chance.
He said that Mantaka is here now because he saw an opportunity even in the lowest stages of his life and seized it when the moment came.
“You have friends, you have children, you have to want to survive,” Mantaka said. “If I give in…no one can help you. But if you say, ‘Yeah, I’m in a really bad situation right now, dig deep, but let’s see how I can get out of it’… It takes time, but you have the power to get out.” from him “.
It serves traditional Israeli cooking, inspired by the food he wished his mother had prepared for him when he was a young boy growing up in Holon, Israel. But when he was ten years old, his family moved to Bnei Brak, Israel.
Bnei Brak is a religious city, unlike Holon, which means that Mantaka was required to attend a school where he learned little about how to become a rabbi one day. He always wanted to become a pilot, but he wanted to learn more than anything else.
Eventually, when he was 15, he transferred to a semi-religious school where he could focus a bit more on traditional subjects, which he did well throughout the year. However, young Mantaka failed to deliver a solo assignment, as a result of which he was expelled from school.
He worked odd jobs, ending his teenage years by completing eight months of school with his in-demand military service, and deciding he would build a career as an electrician.
At the age of 22, he was married with a child, struggling to pay his low-level electric bills.
Instead, he turned to a profession that would bring in enough money to support his family. For nearly 10 years, he worked as a bus driver until times were simply too tough.
“It was very difficult,” Mantaka said. “Long hours outside and long work shifts… You come home so tired, and you can’t contribute to the house. My marriage is getting more and more difficult.”
There was a divorce and a battle for their two children. He built their house to take away from him. He spent three months in Santa Clarita, California, where he worked to send money to the family.
Upon returning to Israel, he quit his job as a bus driver with plans to return indefinitely to a fairly successful job in the United States. His ex-wife thought he was fleeing, so he was forbidden to travel.
For eight months, he was stuck in Israel, fighting for his right to leave the country and work. His father bore the burden on him, accepting financial responsibility for his family, and allowing Mantaka to return to the United States.
“It was very difficult, and there were a lot of lies,” Mantaka said. “After that, I made the children against me, alienation from a parent, so it was very difficult to communicate with my children.”
Even today, Mantaka works through a complicated situation with his children, whom he loves very much, by making an effort to text them every day, every chance he gets.
But a lot happened between his life now and his life in Israel.
A lot has changed – for the better
Before jumping in after quitting his job as a manager at a kiosk in Bakersfield, he worked brief stints in Arizona, Colorado, San Francisco, California and Hawaii, taking a month-long trip to Israel during this time.
Then, as he left the mall in Bakersfield, he felt a knife in his throat, following him with a baseball bat in the back of his head. He was 40 years old when he learned to walk again at his friend’s house in Pasadena, California.
From there, he moved to the mall, selling hair straighteners at stalls in Cheyenne, Arizona again, and then El Centro, California, where he lived the longest span of those years.
He liked the heat in El Centro near the US border with Mexico, but he didn’t know what he wanted.
“I didn’t know the place would be so bad…” he said. “It was very difficult. I invested in a restaurant with my friends, and here comes the story of how I lost everything.”
In 2016, as co-owner of a Mediterranean restaurant in El Centro, his business partner canceled a restaurant renovation deal, taking $30,000 from Mantaka, leaving him bankrupt.
In a last-ditch effort, he traveled to Cheyenne to keep in touch he had established during his time at the mall. In search of direction, he retracted his career as a truck and bus driver, with a plan to apply for a commercial license.
“This was one of the deepest levels I’ve been in life, but I didn’t give up,” Mantaka said. “I believed in myself. I said, ‘You know, this is life. Like a cat, I’m going to land on my feet — I land on my feet and I jump.”
Without a high school diploma of any kind, he took the test, and achieved surprising results. On the test practitioner’s recommendation, he will not become a truck driver, but will submit to Laramie County Community College.
His English was still somewhat wrecked, so to achieve his new goal of being accepted into college without any prior education, he needed a tutor. Abby Roswell served as an ESL teacher where, over the course of one week, I had him write and rewrite an entry essay as practice for the actual exam, revising and paraphrasing each line.
“I wrote the article, and surprisingly, I succeeded,” Mantaka said. “I got accepted into college. It was very hard to get the degree, but next thing you know, I started talking to Abby.”
Rowswell eventually stopped teaching, and went back to her old job at the library while Mantaka was making his way through college.
“Then we got married,” said Mantaka, laughing.
During all this, Mantaka did not stop cooking. He does not consider himself a chef, but someone who wants to make good, clean and affordable food that customers can enjoy. It’s true Israeli cuisine, but it throws a certain flair into the finer details, like the seasoning of thyme on the fries.
As a child in Israel, he took small steps, learning to cook chicken, eggs, and other dishes that his mother never prepared. He did it to feed himself, but it led him to his passion for cooking, food, and the people who eat his food.
Talent becomes a livelihood
He knew there was something special about his cooking when people first tried hummus.
“I love cooking, you know, when I get to the States and taste this hummus, I said, ‘Why do I call it hummus? This isn’t hummus.'”
While at LCCC, he realized the massive lack of quality in store-bought hummus. It wasn’t like he grew up at home, so he took the steps to make his own.
Every Friday, he would bring more and more homemade hummus for his college friends. His mother-in-law encouraged him to expand and turn his hobby into a packaged product.
He took his innovation to the Cheyenne Winter Farmers Market and was a huge success. He soon added specialized salads made of bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley. Pita bread, which he used to make at home, would be sold by the end of each event.
“After the year I sold there and people got to know all about me and hummus, I said, ‘I need to make falafel,’” Muntaka said. “I found a food cart for sale in Steamboat (Springs, Colorado) and someone was selling falafel from it.” .”
At each farmers market, Mantaka paid $25 for a temporary permit to cook and sell his own falafel. He said you don’t miss having to haul the massive wagon, or spend at least two hours setting it up and taking it apart every day.
But the falafel was a success. It needed to expand again.
Food cart restrictions can be disabling. He was not able to sell as he pleased, as he pleased. He tried several times to get a permit from the Ministry of Health as a seller, but he was unsuccessful.
Just minutes after deciding to upgrade to a food truck, a Colorado seller posted a new model on Craigslist. It was relatively new and ample to store components beforehand, and would allow it to move to different areas like never before.
But a buyer was ahead of him, and there was a chance he could lose the deal of a lifetime.
“I was so nervous, everyone was sticking their fingers,” Mantaka said. Then, on Sunday evening, I texted the guy and said, ‘What’s going on? “You have the food truck,” he said. “I was very happy.”
His in-laws gave him money. He struggled to renovate the interior of the truck to comply with city law, adding a sump, running water, and an emergency fire-extinguishing system required by law.
He received a permit within a month. The business took off to where he was already able to pay half the cost of the truck.
From his early days selling to residents of the Cheyenne, he’s seen nothing but customers eager to try his food, but have no intention of upgrading. He also has a two-year-old son now, and the flexibility of the truck makes him available to spend time with his young family.
“I have my share, and I am happy with that,” Mantaka said. “You know, sometimes when you have more assets, you have more fears. I don’t want to have fears.”
There is definitely no one when it comes to Noam’s Table, although there are plenty of them throughout the trip. Money has always been an issue for Mantaka, but not anymore.
If he wanted more money, he would work every day of the week, or open an actual restaurant, but that’s simply not the goal.
“I think if the customer is satisfied with enjoying (my food), then that brings me joy,” Mantaka said. “If I end the day without enough cash, or even lose money, but have clients who enjoy food when I buy it, I’m happy.”
Where concerns persist with Mantaka is with his children from his first marriage, who are still in Israel and still somewhat distant. They are now in their mid-twenties and live an adult life, but still, in general, refuse to interact with him regularly.
Aversion to a parent is a painful problem in his homeland, which he still suffers every day. He’s started texting his son recently and has even gone on trips with his daughter, reconnecting after years of distance.
Never lazy, never discouraged, Mantaka continues to push himself into the lives of his children in the hope that this too will come together.
“I accept everything I’ve been through in my life, including my ex, and what she’s done to me, in terms of money,” Mantaka said. “There’s one thing I don’t accept, and I still work on to this day – and that is reaching out to my children and being their parent.”