A Mexican-American laborer who claimed to have invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, setting his life on an incredible rags-to-riches pathway, was exposed on Sunday as having invented key parts of the story.
Richard Montañez, 62, has written two books telling his remarkable tale, and commands up to $50,000 for motivational speeches. A biopic of his life, Flamin’ Hot, is currently being made by Eva Longoria.
Yet The Los Angeles Times spoke to former colleagues and executives at the food company, who called into question Montañez’s story.
In particular, one woman, Linda Greenfeld, said that she was put in charge of developing the brand and came up with the Flamin’ Hot name and product idea.
‘It is disappointing that 20 years later, someone who played no role in this project would begin to claim our experience as his own and then personally profit from it,’ she told the paper.
Montañez has not commented on the claims.
Montañez, 62, claims to have come up with the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – yet that may not be true
Montañez was certainly involved in product development – a remarkable feat for someone who joined the company in 1976 as a janitor.
He claims that, as a janitor, he rang the chief executive and pitched the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Yet Frito-Lay said its records show he was promoted to machinist operator by October 1977, shortly after his hiring.
In that role, he writes in his new memoir, he spearheaded a program to reduce waste along the assembly line.
Greenfeld joined the company in 1989, and was tasked with finding a product that appealed to spicier tastes and could rival the flavor-filled snacks that were selling well in the mid West.
Six of the former employees remember inspiration coming from the corner stores of Chicago and Detroit – not from California, where Montañez worked.
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are one of the company’s best-known products and biggest sellers
Fred Lindsay, a salesman for the Chicago region, remembers clearly working to develop the snack.
‘The funny thing is, I heard maybe a year ago that some guy from California was taking credit for developing hot Cheetos, which is crazy,’ Lindsay told The LA Times.
‘I’m not trying to take credit; I’m just trying to set the record straight.’
By August 1990, test versions of Flamin’ Hot were launched in Chicago, Detroit and Houston. By early 1992, they were on sale nationwide.
Montañez’s version of events does not fit the timeline.
Montañez’s tale is that he felt empowered to invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos after watching a motivational video from Roger Enrico, the CEO of the company, that encouraged all Frito-Lay workers to ‘act like owners’ and take charge of the business.
Yet Enrico did not start work until the beginning of 1991 – by which point the product had already been invented, and tested.
Montañez claims that he called Enrico to pitch the idea and that Enrico flew out to Rancho Cucamonga, California, weeks later to witness his pitch in person.