Richard Montañez is often credited as the Frito-Lay janitor that came up with the idea for Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
Born to a family of Mexican immigrants, Montañez climbed the corporate ladder to become a VP at PepsiCo.
Searchlight's new movie "Flamin' Hot" tells the story of how Montañez left his mark on Cheeto history.
Richard Montañez was born in Ontario, California, to Mexican immigrant parents. One of 10 siblings, he grew up on a migrant labor camp in southern California.
At one point, his entire family lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Struggling to pick up reading and writing, Montañez ended up dropping out of high school before getting his GED.
Montañez picked up odd jobs to support his family, doing everything from slaughtering chickens to washing cars. In 1976 at the age of 18, he was hired as a Frito-Lay plant janitor in Southern California.
According to Montañez, the idea for Flamin' Hot Cheetos came to him when a broken assembly machine put out a plain batch of Cheetos without the usual cheddar cheese dust. Montañez claimed he took the batch home and experimented with familiar flavors, eventually adding chili powder inspired by the street vendors in his neighborhood.
After testing it out on his family, he said he decided to bring his new idea to Frito-Lay management.
The company incentivized all employees of any level to bring innovative ideas to management. Montañez claimed he cold-called Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico in 1991 about his new chili-flavored Cheeto. Montañez said Enrico then gave him two weeks to come up with a pitch for the other C-suite executives.
Montañez quickly brought himself up to speed on marketing and product design by borrowing books from his local library. He said he spent the two weeks developing a marketing strategy and packaging ideas for what would become Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
After a successful presentation, both Montañez's career and the Flamin' Hot Cheeto, took off.
Montañez went on to become vice president of multicultural sales and community promotions at PepsiCo as the Flamin' Hot Cheeto became one of the company's most successful products.
Although lauded as a beloved "rags-to-riches" story, Montañez's account has been disputed. According to the Los Angeles Times in 2021, Frito-Lay had already been testing the Flamin' Hot Cheeto by 1989 in Plano, Texas, with little documentation to support Montañez's meeting with Enrico.
Montañez refuted the claims by saying, as a janitor, his contributions may not have been prioritized enough to document and that he was unaware of other simultaneous operations going on at the company.
Source: Los Angeles Times
In a public statement, Frito-Lay did not directly credit the creation of Flamin' Hot products to Montañez, but did attribute "the launch and success of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and other products to several people who worked at PepsiCo, including Richard Montañez."
Since then, Flamin' Hot Cheetos have exploded into a social phenomenon.
Inspiring fashion shows, costumes, and new categories of cuisines, the Flamin' Hot Cheeto has become an undeniable icon of American gastronomy.
With the recent release of the "Flamin' Hot" movie, Montañez has become an integral part of the iconic snack's history.
Read the original article on Insider