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Who is Richard Montanez? Janitor-turned-director DID NOT 'invent' Flamin' Hot Cheetos, claims Frito-Lay

While Frito-Lay slammed the story and said 'the facts do not support the urban legend', Montanez responded with 'I was their greatest ambassador'
UPDATED MAY 17, 2021
Richard Montanez claimed to have invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos but Frito-Lay denied the story amid Eva Longoria's biopic news (Getty Images)
Richard Montanez claimed to have invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos but Frito-Lay denied the story amid Eva Longoria's biopic news (Getty Images)

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, May 16, as having invented key parts of the story.

Richard Montanez, 62, has written two books telling his remarkable tale and charges up to $50,000 for motivational speeches. A biopic of his life, 'Flamin' Hot', is currently being made by Eva Longoria. However, former employees and executives at the food industry spoke to The Los Angeles Times, casting doubt on Montanez's claim. Here's all you need to know about Montanez.


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Who is Richard Montanez?

Montanez, the son of a Mexican immigrant, grew up in a migrant labor camp in Southern California. He is an author and businessman best known for claiming to have invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Before moving to an 800-square-foot three-bedroom house, he and his 10 siblings shared a one-bedroom apartment with their parents. 

“I have a PhD of being poor, hungry and determined,” the janitor-turned-inventor-turned-executive told the Washington Post. “And I think when you’ve experienced those three things, there’s a lot of wisdom. When you’ve been poor, there’s so much innovation that comes out of that.”


When a machine on the assembly line broke and a shipment of Cheetos didn't get dusted with their usual orange cheese powder, he got the idea for Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Montanez took the plain Cheetos home and experimented with seasoning them with chili powder, an idea he got from a street vendor in his neighborhood who sold Mexican grilled corn with lime and chili, reported CNBC.

He agreed to pitch the product to the CEO after hearing positive feedback from his friends and family. After all, Roger Enrico, the company's CEO at the time, had sent out a video “inviting all workers to take ownership of the company,” Montanez reports. “I called him up, not understanding you weren't supposed to call the CEO,” he said. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Montanez is the author of two books based on his life experiences: 'A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie' and 'Flamin' Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man's Rise from Janitor to Top Executive'. He is the subject of a planned biopic, 'Flamin' Hot', directed by Longoria. Montanez played a role in marketing for the company and rose to become a director at the brand.


Did Richard Montanez invent Flamin' Hot Cheetos?

One Lynne Greenfeld, for example, said she was given the task of designing the brand and came up with the Flamin' Hot name and product concept, the Daily Mail quoted the LA Times as saying, on Sunday, May 16.

"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 LA Times. Montañez has not commented on the claims. Greenfeld joined the company in 1989 and was charged with developing a food that appealed to spicier tastes and could compete with the common flavor-filled snacks in the Midwest.


Six former employees recall finding inspiration in Chicago and Detroit corner shops, rather than in California, where Montaez worked. Fred Lindsay, a salesman for the Chicago area, recalls working on the snack creation. "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, adding: "I'm not trying to take credit; I'm just trying to set the record straight."

In a statement to the Times, Frito-Lay wrote: “None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market. 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. That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard, but the facts do not support the urban legend.”

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