The story of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is getting itself a movie — yes, really — but according to parent company Frito-Lay, what we end up seeing on the screen may not actually be the truth!
Richard Montañez, a former janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, California (pictured above), has claimed for more than a decade that he’s the one who created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the early 1990s. The brand has since gone on to become one of America’s most flavorful snacks.
As for Montañez, he took his inspirational story and turned it into a memoir which was recently optioned by Searchlight Pictures. The production company is now working on a biopic about Montañez called Flamin’ Hot, to be produced by DeVon Franklin and directed by Eva Longoria.
But what if it’s all a big lie?!
A damning new report published in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday straight-up asserts Montañez was not the inventor of the Flamin’ Hot flavor idea. And now, Frito-Lay has released a new statement to the media, saying:
“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.”
The LA Times article cited internal company documents and interviews with current and former employees, all of which claim a woman named Lynne Greenfeld — a junior employee at Frito-Lay’s corporate office in Texas — was assigned to develop the Flamin’ Hot brand back in 1989. She was the one who allegedly first came up with the name itself, and later helped to bring the product to market in 1990.
According to the outlet, Montañez abruptly first started to claim his success story in the late 2000s. Greenfeld first heard of his claims in 2018, and contacted Frito-Lay about the story. That triggered an internal investigation at the time by the company, which concluded Montañez was not the inventor.
The snack giant doubled down on that assertion with more of their statement this week, adding:
“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.”
Nevertheless, Montañez continues to claim he did invent the brand, having been inspired by a motivational video from then-PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico, who encouraged all of his employees to “act like owners.” Taken by that while working as a janitor, Montañez alleges he started thinking up the Flamin’ Hot brand and developed it in Rancho Cucamonga. According to the former janitor, a conveyor belt malfunction left some Cheetos on the line without any flavoring, and he took them home and experimented with various spices.
But as the new report noted, Enrico didn’t take over control of Frito-Lay until the beginning of 1991 — nearly six months after Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were already out on the market — and thus Montañez wouldn’t have been inspired by any video and subsequent conveyor belt malfunction on this timetable.
Montañez has his defenders, though.
One guy named Al Carey, who was a longtime Frito-Lay exec, insisted Montañez is actually the true creator of the brand. Carey asserted the product was not out on the market prior to his meeting with Montañez in 1992, when the janitor first pitched the idea. Carey added:
“The product was developed by those guys in the plant.”
Frito-Lay responded to Carey’s statement, though, too. A spokesperson for the food giant said:
“According to our records, McCormick, Frito-Lay’s longtime seasoning supplier, developed the Flamin’ Hot seasoning and sent initial samples to Frito-Lay on December 15, 1989. This is essentially the same seasoning Frito-Lay uses today.”
Well then! Nevertheless, Carey hedged his bets in response, adding a broad statement about the brand:
“They may have not invented the ingredient, but they invented the energy that goes behind this thing and the positioning, and then it becomes successful.”
Uhhh… OK? Helping to brand and position a product is very important, no doubt — but inventing “the energy” for the product is very different from actually inventing the product!!!
FWIW, Frito-Lay records sent to the LA Times indicate that Montañez was instrumental in the development and rollout of two other spicy products they produced in the early 1990s: Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, and Sabrositas. That’s something! Still, after the report came out on Sunday, Montañez reacted with his own statement to Variety about the assertion that he didn’t invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
“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.”
Sure, man! Ambassadors are fine, but again, no response to Frito-Lay straight-up saying you didn’t invent Flamin’ Hots???
Interestingly, the Longoria-directed film appears to be going ahead no matter what. The LA Times reported producers were first informed of Frito-Lay’s investigation back in 2019, but “decided to move forward” all the same. Earlier this month, after the lead cast members were announced — Jessie Garcia and Annie Gonzalez — Longoria released a statement to Variety:
“My biggest priority to make sure we are telling Richard Montañez’s story authentically. I am so happy to have two extremely talented and fellow Mexican Americans on board in these pivotal roles. Jesse and Annie have a deep understanding of our community and will be able to help tell this story of great importance for our culture.”
Based on all the info provided by Frito-Lay over the years, here’s hoping the movie tells Lynne Greenfeld’s story authentically, too! Just saying!
BTW, if this is your first hearing of Montañez, here’s an old GMA segment on the former janitor’s (alleged) story and the coming biopic about his life:
What a story! If only Frito-Lay didn’t assert he’s lying! But other than that little problem, what a story!
What do U think about this crazy situation, Perezcious readers?! It’s kind of amazing how Montañez took credit for inventing a product, ran with it, put it in a memoir, and now it’s going to be a major motion picture!
What was that Kellyanne Conway used to say about “alternative facts”?! On some level, you have to seriously admire Montañez’s cojones here for just sayin’ f**k it and going forward to stardom!
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