Flamin’ Hot Cheetos’ Alleged Creator’s Story Debunked by Frito-Lay

a bag of cheetos sits on a couch.

The rags-to-riches story of self-proclaimed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos inventor Richard Montanez, who went from a janitor to executive at Frito-Lay, is not true, according to the company.

“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” Frito-Lay wrote in a statement to the L.A. Times in a story on Sunday. “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 does not mean we do not celebrate Richard, but the facts do not support the urban legend.”

According to a story this weekend in Variety, the American dream-type story is scheduled to become a movie from Searchlight Pictures directed by actress Eva Langoria.

Montanez has touted his role inventing the spicy snack in his garage kitchen, propelling him from being a janitor and machine operator with Frito-Lays’ parent company PepsiCo, to the upper marketing executive level.

In addition to taking paid speaking engagements for his story, Montanez also wrote a book about his story which is listed on Amazon.

“The unforgettable true story of how a janitor struggling to put food on the table invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in a secret test kitchen, breaking barriers and becoming the first Latino executive at Frito-Lay,” the book listing on the site said. 

According to Variety, Montanez was not involved in 1989 when the company assigned a junior employee, Lynne Greenfield, the task of developing the brand at the company’s corporate office in Texas.

The company said it was Greenfield that came up with the name and marketed the new product throughout the country.

When Greenfield heard in 2018 that Montanez was taking credit for the product, she contacted the company, and an internal investigation was initiated.

“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,” Frito-Lay said in its statement.

Montanez is disputing his former employer and maintains the importance of his role in creating the snack.

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

According to the story, the producers of the movie were notified of the situation but are continuing with production.

Montanez is currently listed on the Washington Speakers Bureau website with a fee of under $25,000.

“Richard’s riveting and inspiring story proves that all of us are just one great idea away from our dreams,” the listing on that site said. “Hear this one-time janitor tell you how he fanned a spark of innovation into the billion-dollar worldwide phenomenon, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.