Frito Lay claims famous ‘rags to riches’ tale of a janitor inventing Flamin Hot Cheetos is an ‘urban legend’

Richard Montañez’s “rags to riches” story of how he went from being a janitor to a successful businessman by inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos may be an “urban legend” the company claimed

Alice Hutton
Monday 17 May 2021 19:31 BST
Richard Montañez’s inspirational story is even being made into a movie directed by Eva Longoria
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A former janitor who made a successful career claiming that he invented the famous Flamin’ Hot Cheetos snack has hit back at parent company Frito-Lay after they claimed his 20-year story was an “urban legend”.

Since the early 2000s Richard Montañez has repeatedly claimed that he pitched the idea for the chili-covered crisps to a manager in 1991 when he worked for them at a warehouse in Rancho Cucamonga in California.

His inspirational, “rags to riches” tale garnered him a book deal titled “Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive” and an upcoming biopic directed by Hollywood star Eva Longoria.

But after two decades of not disputing his claim, Frito-Lay recently came forward and denied he was never involved in the creation of the product, as reported in The Los Angeles Times.

“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” Frito-Lay told the newspaper in a statement.

“We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that Richard was not involved in any capacity in the test market.”

They did not deny his rise through the company, from janitor to a marketing director and added: “That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard, but the facts do not support the urban legend.”

“I was their greatest ambassador,” Montañez tells Variety of Frito-Lay. “But I will say this, you’re going to love your company more than they will ever love you, keep that in perspective.”

They claim that a junior employee in Texas called Lynne Greenfeld came up with the idea and name in 1989.

She reportedly contacted the company in 2018 after hearing Mr Montañez’s version, triggering an internal investigation.

The company added: “We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot products to him.”

Mr Montañez told Variety that he had not heard of Ms Greenfield and called himself the brand’s “greatest ever ambassador.”

He said: “I’m not even going to try to dispute that lady, because I don’t know. All I can tell you is what I did. All I have is my history, what I did in my kitchen.”

Montañez alleges that he began pitching product ideas to Frito-Lay in the late ’80s, while working as a janitor for the company.

“Frito-Lay had something called the method-improvement program, looking for ideas. That kind of inspired me, so I always had these ideas for different flavors and products,” Montañez says. “The only difference in what I did, is I made the product, instead of just writing the idea on a piece of paper and sending it. They would forward over those products to the appropriate people and I didn’t know, because I was just a frontline worker.”

Mr Montañez’s representative, Steven Montañez, added: “The recipe and the flavors that Richard came up with, of course when they were ready to get mass produced, Frito-Lay tweaked them and did whatever they needed to do to get them market ready. But Richard never got to be part of it because his position had nothing to do with it. He wasn’t a marketer, he wasn’t in R&D, he wasn’t in sales — he was a general utility machine operator, which is a janitor.”

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