The story of how Richard Montañez, a former janitor working at Frito-Lay, invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and worked his way to the executive suite, is legendary, but now, Frito-Lay is saying it is all a big fraud.
In an investigative report released by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday (May 16), Frito-Lay called Montañez’s claims that he invented the spicy version of Cheetos false.
“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. “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.”
Montañez pushed back in an interview with Variety on the same day the L.A. Times article dropped. “I was their greatest ambassador,” he says. “But I will say this, you’re going to love your company more than they will ever love you, keep that in perspective.”
The L.A. Times reports that the Flamin’ Hot brand was developed by a junior employee at Frito-Lay’s corporate office in Texas named Lynne Greenfeld, who triggered an internal investigation when she contacted Frito-Lay in 2018 asking why Montañez was taking credit for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
“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’s statement reads.
Montañez says during that time, Frito-Lay had five divisions, so he’s not sure what some of the other parts of the company were doing. He says he’s never heard the name Greenfeld until now.
“I’m not even going to try to dispute that lady, because I don’t know,” he says. “All I can tell you is what I did. All I have is my history, what I did in my kitchen.”
As the story goes, Montañez was working as a janitor at the Frito-Lay company and took home a sample of unflavored Cheetos after a machine broke down in the plant. At home, he created the mixture for the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos spice. He was then able to pitch his idea to CEO Roger Enrico over the phone and was then given the opportunity to present it to him in person. Montañez was later named vice president of multicultural sales and community promotions for Frito-Lay’s parent company PepsiCo.
While there were plenty of readers shocked at the accusations that Montañez had apparently been lying for decades about his role with Frito-Lay, others on social media had a lot of questions that still needed to be answered.
Montañez’s second book, Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive, is scheduled to debut next month. A biopic on his life is already in pre-production with actress Eva Longoria set to direct.