The son of a Greek immigrant, Mentis grew up in Johannesburg in a house behind his father’s general dealer shop in Kerk Street. He became an apprentice fitter and turner in 1938, having completed his Advanced Technical Certificate at Witwatersrand Technical College, taking his first job at SCAW Metals.
He started his first business after the war at age 25, partnering with his brother-in-law to produce equipment that varied from vegetable-oil expellers, sweet manufacturing machinery and bakery equipment, to gas producers, lawnmower components and brass window and door fittings.
His big break came in 1952 when the US’s Kellogg Corporation needed to source a suitable floor grating for the mammoth Sasol contract they were managing in the Vaal triangle. The product was not available locally, and the grating imported from Europe was too light for this application. With his experience of designing and adapting machinery for special purposes, Mentis developed the necessary equipment to manufacture the grating, and supplied nearly 2,000 tonnes of it to the Sasol project.
In the late 1950s, he designed and patented ‘Rectagrid’, a completely new type of grating – along with a complete manufacturing plant to allow mass production on a cost-effective basis. So successful was this facility that a similar plant was later produced and exported to the United Kingdom. This was one of several Andrew Mentis (Pty) Ltd’s exports that earned the company the prestigious State President’s Award for Export Achievement. Mentis Rectagrid remains South Africa’s leading grating product today – and is even copied by other manufacturers.
He created a family business; his late wife Mary, in the early days, even worked the lathes in the garage and his three sons – Clive, Brian and Roy – all took a role in the business during their careers. The third generation is now engaged. Andrew himself would still clock in at the office every morning into his 90s, even after some of his children had already retired.
His contribution to the engineering industry was recognised by his position as a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering Technology, the Institute of Production Engineers and the SA Institute of Industrial Engineers. He was a Life Member of the SA Society for Professional Engineers, as well as a member of the SA Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Engineers Association of SA.