The Valley Forge opened it’s doors for business in 1990 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Initially one welder was employed, followed shortly by a carpenter and a painter. One of the garages at Bunny Mentz’s home in the beautiful Umwinsidale valley, northeast of Harare, was converted into a workshop. The rest as they say, is history!
The Valley Forge was the first Company to combine forged steel with old, weathered Rhodesian Teak recovered from scrap Railway sleepers (crossties) lifted from the line of rail laid by Cecil John Rhodes in pursuit of his dream to link Cape Town with Cairo. During the decade of the 1990’s The Valley Forge processed thousands of these old sleepers. It also pioneered the manufacture of one-off pieces of furniture incorporating old Zambezi Tonga Doors from Bunny Mentz’s personal collection.
The manufacturing side of the business soon outgrew the garage in Umwinsidale and moved to a shed on a farm 10 minutes further out of town, where it peaked in 1998 to a workforce of over 90 craftspeople. The showroom remained in Umwinsidale, which in the meantime had developed a reputation as the country’s premier craft producing area.
By now Bunny Mentz’s wife Jan was also well and truly involved in the business, especially on the marketing and PR side. Customers would go from The Valley Forge to Umwinsi Ceramics and then on to see Patrick Mavros’ world famous creations in silver , perhaps via The Tribal Chief or one of the specialist Shona Sculpture Galleries. Sadly today only a couple of these energetic centres of creativity remain.
Foreign buyers accounted for about 80% of The Valley Forge’s customer mix, both resident foreigners (diplomats, etc.) and visitors to Zimbabwe. Included amoungst the 20% local buyers was the Hospitality Industry in Zimbabwe. The Valley Forge made furniture for several restaurants and hotels, such as Hwange Safari Lodge and The Kingdom Hotel at the Victoria Falls.
Whilst the 90’s were boom time, the start of the new milennium heralded an era of great negativity for Zimbabwe. Seeing the writing on the wall, Bunny Mentz downsized the business and moved the factory back to Umwinsidale.In 2002 he and Jan left The Valley Forge in the hands of their manager and headed South to Knysna, a coasal town with a legendary timber industry east of Cape Town.